By Sandra Umeh
Lagos – There was a twist on Monday in Lagos in the ongoing trial of Mohammed Belgore (SAN), and a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman for alleged N450 million money laundering as the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, was joined in the suit.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)’s prosecutor had amended the five-count charge and joined Allison-Madueke, as an accused in the case at a Federal High Court, Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN reports that Allison-Madueke was charged in absentia alongside a one-time governorship candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Belgore and Sulaiman.
Belgore and Sulaiman were first arraigned in February before Justice Mohammed Aikawa on a five-count charge bordering on money laundering.
At the resumed trial of the two accused persons on Monday, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, informed the court of an amended charge in which the name of Allison-Madueke had been joined as an accused.
Allison-Madueke was, however, described as being “at large” in the new charge.
Oyedepo then urged the court to allow the amended charge to be read over to Belgore and Sulaiman who were present in court for their pleas to be taken afresh.
The application was not opposed by defence counsel as the court ordered the plea of the accused to be taken.
The accused again entered a “not guilty” plea.
Upon their plea, the prosecution called on its first witness, Mr Timothy Olaobaju, a banker.
Led in evidence by Oyedepo, the witness informed the court that sometime in April 2014, a cash lodgement of about 115 million dollars was made lodged into the account of Allison-Madueke.
He said that subsequently on March 27, 2015, the accused issued payment instructions to convert the said sums into Naira, and paid to some beneficiaries including Belgore and Suleiman.
He told the court that the duo received the sum of N450 million and filled the payment form to acknowledge receipt.
The prosecutor tendered the form filled by the accused in evidence, urging the court to admit same as exhibit.
Justice Aikawa admitted the form in evidence, and accordingly marked them as Exhibits 1 and 1a.
Furthermore, the witness told the court no cheque was issued in respect of the funds, adding that the the accused signed the form on March 26, 2015, while they received the money on March 27, 2015.
Meanwhile, counsel representing the accused — Mr B. O. Shofunde (SAN), and Chief O Ayanlaja (SAN) — urged the court to grant an adjournment to enable them cross-examine the witness.
Consequently, the court adjourned the case to March 14 for cross-examination of the witness and continuation of trial.
In the five counts, Allison-Madueke was alleged to have conspired with Belgore and Sulaiman on or about March 27, 2015, to directly take possession of the sum of N450 million which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of proceeds of unlawful act.
The accused were also alleged to have taken the said funds in cash which exceeded the amount authorised by law without going through a financial institution.
Belgore and Sulaiman were also alleged to have paid the sum of N50 million to one Sheriff Shagaya without going through any financial institution.
The offences are said to have contravened the provisions of Sections 1(a), 15, 16(d) and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.