By Tajudeen Suleiman
Ten years after being impeached as governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye is still answering for his alleged crimes while in office. He was governor of Plateau State between 1999 and November, 2006, when he was impeached by the state legislature on allegations of corruption.
He was docked again at the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court in Gudu on Monday on an amended 23 count charge bordering on money laundering and diversion of the state ecological funds to the tune of N1.162 billion.
On Monday, Dariye was in court as early as 9.00 am with a few aides, and he took his seat on the front row beside the dock. Immediately after the trial judge, Justice Adebukola Bamijoko, took her seat and the case was called, the former governor, now a senator was asked to enter the dock at 9.45am.
Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Rotimi Jacob, represented by Tayo Olukotun, told the court that the prosecution had sought an amendment of the charges and served the accuse the fresh charges.
The amended charges were subsequently read out to Dariye who stood in the dock for all the 35 minutes it took, fiddling with his eye glasses and wiping his mouth intermittently. Looking sober and weary, he pleaded “Not Guilty” to all the 23 count charges.
Due to the absence of the prosecution witness, Dariye was asked to leave the dock for a moment. But about 50 minutes later when the witness appeared in court, the senator was again asked to enter the dock to resume hearing.
The prosecution witness, Mohammed Kawu, an operative of the EFCC, was also interrogated by both counsels.
Explaining what he knew about the case, Kawu told the court he first came in contact with the case in 2009 when he was posted to the newly created Assets Forfeiture and Recovery Unit of the commission.
“Our major responsibility was to collect all court orders secured by the EFCC since its inception for execution. Among the orders received is that of Joshua Dariye. It was an interim forfeiture order pending the determination of the charges against him,” he said.
The forfeiture order against Dariye involved 11 properties, 10 of which were located in Jos and one in Asokoro, Abuja. Kawu disclosed that his team was able to take possession of only the property in Abuja as they couldn’t take possession of those in Jos “for security reasons” because they were physically prevented from doing so.
He said they had to give up in order to “avoid serious confrontation.” He added that the Abuja property in possession of EFCC was being managed by an asset consultant who has realised the sum of N67 million from the property since 2012.
During his cross examination of the only witness in court, the defence counsel asked whether the witness could provide the money realised from the Abuja property in court, and Kawu said it was in a dedicated EFCC’s Recovery Account.
Dariye’s lawyer asked the court to give them a few days to file a proper defence and the trial judge adjourned the case for accelerated hearing to June 10.
It would be recalled that on May 9, Peter Clark, a Cetective Constable at the UK Metropolitan Police, London, who appeared as prosecution witness No 9 in the court, had recounted how the British authorities started investigations into Dariye’s money laundering activities.
He had stated that one Christopher Mekwunye, an aide of Dariye, arrested at 127 Chilton House, Portland Street, South-West London, during a raid by officers investigating a “large” credit card fraud, confessed that the £11,560 found on him belonged to Dariye who asked him to deposit it in his Barclays Bank account.
He said Dariye operated nine accounts with the Barclays Bank, some of which were high interest bearing accounts with a balance of £816,000.
According to Clark, activities on the accounts “increased significantly after Dariye became a governor in 1999” as money flowed into the accounts from a company registered in the name of his son-Ebenezer Retnam Ventures. Under Nigerian laws, an elected public official is barred from holding foreign accounts.
The British policemen stated that searches conducted on the former governor’s hotel and his property in London led to the recovery of a £43,000 cash, another £11,995 cash, a Mont Blanc pen worth £7,000 and seven pairs of Louis Vultton branded shoes worth £700 each.
He said Dariye pleaded for bail and promised to return to London on December 14, 2004, but never kept the promise. The detective caused a stir in the court when he said he was seeing Dariye for the first time again since 2004.
Clark said the EFCC was requested to assist in investigating Dariye in Nigeria and said it was an opportunity for him to confront the accused again. He said if he had the evidence EFCC presented to him in December 2004, Dariye would have been charged with criminal offence in London.
The case was stalled for years because Dariye tried to stop his prosecution first at the Appeal Court and later at the Supreme Court, which finally ruled that the former governor had a case to answer.
In January 2016 when the case resumed at the FCT High Court, Gudu, a prosecution witness, Musa Sunday, also a detective with the EFCC, provided details into the findings of the investigative team that probed the allegations against Dariye.
Sunday told the court that the EFCC had in September 2004 received a petition from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, regarding a request by the UK Metropolitan Police for the investigation of some companies linked to Mr. Dariye.
He said the petition of the UK Metropolitan Police was sent by the AGF to the EFCC, and it was subsequently referred to his team for investigation. He said they investigated all the banks, companies and individuals involved in the alleged fraud and discovered that the signatory to the bank accounts, who gave his names as Joshua Dariye, was actually the accuse.
In one of the banks, the All State Trust Bank, it was discovered that the mandate of the account at the bank had no passport photo on it, but upon interrogation of the bank manager, it was discovered that Dariye owned the account and had requested for a waiver when he opened the account.
He said it was the waiver that enabled him to open it without following the due process of affixing his passport photo on the mandate form.