N1.4bn fraud: EFCC calls witness against Usoro

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Peter Fowoyo, Lagos

TRACKING >>Barely six weeks after a Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos dismissed an application by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, asking that the trial of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), be adjourned indefinitely, the prosecution on Wednesday, called its first witness in the suit.

Usoro is being prosecuted before Justice Rilwan Aikawa for allegedly laundering N1.4 billion belonging to Akwa Ibom State Government.

The witness, a Relations Manager at the Aka Road branch of a new generation bank in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, mounted the witness box after the court dismissed an application brought by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, praying that the trial be adjourned indefinitely.

The governor’s lawyer, Mr. Ogbonaya Nwakwo, had urged Justice Aikawa to adjourn the trial sine die to allow the Court of Appeal determine the appeal filed by his client against the court’s ruling of May 30.

Justice Aikawa had dismissed the governor’s application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charges against Usoro on the grounds that his name was mentioned as one of the persons who allegedly conspired with Usoro to allegedly launder the N1.4bn.

He had contended that by mentioning his name, the charge had become invalid since as a sitting governor he enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

However, the court held that the fact that the governor’s name was mentioned in the body of the charges did not mean that he was a defendant in the case.

Dissatisfied, Nwakwo said the governor had appealed and prayed the court to adjourn indefinitely to await the appellate court’s decision.

But the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, argued that the sine die adjournment prayed for was tantamount to stay of proceedings which Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Section 40 of the EFCC Act and the Supreme Court had forbidden a trial court to entertain in criminal proceedings.

Besides, the prosecutor argued that since the court had pronounced that Emmanuel was not a party to the charge, there was no way he could ask for an adjournment.

Justice Aikawa agreed with the EFCC lawyer, paving the way for commencement of trial.

In her testimony, Idongesit, who was led in evidence by Oyedepo, told the court that sometime in March 2016 she went to the Akwa Ibom State Government House in Uyo on a “marketing call”.

She said while there, she overheard a conversation between Emmanuel and the state’s Accountant General on the need to pay certain sums of money to Usoro.

“This payment, I got to understand, should have gone to Access Bank. I took that as information for myself because the business I do basically thrives on information. I got back to my office and checked through the system to see if the defendant (Usoro) has an account with Zenith Bank and I found no such account existed,” Idongesit said.

She said following this, she made moves to get Usoro to open an account with Zenith Bank so that the money which Emmanuel spoke of could be paid to Usoro through Zenith Bank.

She said following her efforts, on March 10, 2016, “Aka Road branch of the bank was given a withdrawal instrument of N700m on the imprest account of the Akwa Ibom State Accountant General.”

Following this, she said she got Usoro’s contact from Emmanuel on March 14, 2016 “and I put a call through to him, that I had the payment of the defendant and he needed to open an account.”

“He instructed me to work with two of his colleagues. When I confirmed the exact names registered on the form, I sought the approval of my zonal head to open the account and made the deposit while waiting for documentation.

“I filled the deposit slip and the depositor’s name that I filled was Paul Usoro,” Idongesit told the court.

The court admitted in evidence and marked as exhibits the instructions given to the bank for the withdrawal of N700m from the Accountant General’s imprest account as well as the document.

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