By Sandra Umeh
Lagos – A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday granted a motion for the release of the International Passport of a former Minister of State for Finance, Nenandi Usman, facing N4.6 billion money laundering charges.
Usman is standing trial alongside a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, Yusuf Danjuma, a former Chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), and a Company Jointrust Dimension Ltd.
The defendants were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on 17-counts.
They had each pleaded not guilty to the charge, and were granted bail.
EFCC had earlier opened the case for the prosecution and was still leading witnesses in evidence.
When the case was called on Monday, Mr U.U. Buhari announced appearance for the prosecution, Chief Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) appeared for the first defendant while Mr Morrison Quakers (SAN) appeared for the second defendant.
Buhari then informed the court that the prosecution was ready to proceed with trial adding that prosecution witness was in court.
Orbih on his part, informed the court of a motion by defence, seeking variation of the bail terms earlier granted the first defendant for a release of her international passport for an overseas trip.
He told the court that he had spoken with the lead prosecutor for the motion to be taken.
Just then, the lead counsel, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo came into the court, announced his appearance, and told the court that the case was set for trial but that there appeared to be a mix up in the communication between counsel.
He, however, said in the interest of justice, he would concede to the motion being taken.
This application was not opposed.
Oyedepo, said that since the first defendant had been granted such indulgences in the past and had honoured same without any issue, he would not oppose the motion.
He however added: “I pray that God heals her so that she will not have to travel again,”
Justice Mohammed Aikawa consequently, granted the motion as prayed, and held that the passport be retuned back to court on or before Jan 15.
He adjourned the case until Jan. 23 and Jan. 24 for continuation of trial.
Meanwhile, the court noted that there was a letter by a surety to the third defendant, seeking to withdraw his title document and his suretiship for the third defendant (Danjuma)
In reaction, first defence counsel, Orbih, noted that such procedure was strange in law , especially as it was mid way into trial.
He, however, told the court that whatever issues there was, would be resolved one way or the other before the next adjourned date.
At a last adjourned date on Oct. 29, EFCC had led Mr Shehu Shuaibu, its third prosecution witness in evidence.
Shuaibu, an investigator with the commission, had narrated to the court, how the sum of N800 million was paid from the Ministry of External Affairs into the account of the fourth defendant, Jointrust Dimension Ltd.
The witness had told the court that investigations revealed that on Jan. 16, 2015, the sum of N800million was paid into the account of the company.
He had told the court that the money came from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), adding that the signatories to the account were one Darbisu and Benjamin.
The witness had told the court that the said signatories were former staff of the MEA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), respectively, but were both currently working with the National Intelligence Agency.
Under cross examination by defence, the witness told the court that the author of the entries in exhibit Eight was the MEA.
When asked if any of the defendants had any input in the said entries, the witness had replied “No. they don’t”
When further asked to confirm if there existed in the said exhibit, words like Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the witness had replied” No”.
They further explained that the words were abbreviated to read MEA and MFA.
The witness had also told the court that he had no knowledge if any of the defendants were employees of any investigation agency of Government.
In the charge, the defendants were alleged to have committed the offences between January and March 2015.
In counts one to seven, they were alleged to have unlawfully retained over N3.8 billion which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act of stealing and corruption.
In counts eight to 14, they were alleged to have unlawfully used over N970 million which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of an unlawful act of corruption.
Meanwhile in counts 15 to17 Fani-Kayode and one Olubode Oke who is said to be at large, were alleged to have made cash payments of about N30 million, in excess of the amount allowed by law, without going through a financial institution.
Besides, Fani-Kayode was alleged to have made payments to one Paste Poster Co (PPC) of No 125 Lewis St., Lagos, in excess of amounts allowed by law.
All offences contravened the provisions of sections 15 (3) (4), 16 (2) (b), and 16 (5) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012. (NAN)