THE Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Monday, adjourned the trial of Touyo Omatsuli, a former Executive Director on Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and three others for allegedly laundering funds belonging to the commission to the tune of N3.6 billion.
Tuoyo Omatsuli was arraigned alongside Francis Momoh and two companies, Don Parker Properties Ltd, and Building Associates Ltd to by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on 45 counts bordering on corruption, gratification, fraud and money laundering.
Justice Saliu Seidu, the presiding judge at the resumed hearing allowed the cross-examination of the prosecution witness.
A fourth prosecution witness, Ibinabo Micheal-West, told the court how the NDDC, recovered over N100 billion from International Oil companies, IOC, when he was awarded a contract with the commission, to recover the debt owed by the oil companies operating within the Niger Delta region.
“The oil companies were to remit a three per cent annual budget to the NDDC which they had not remitted in full rather they were doing it at will.the oil. I served them demand notices, and also wrote petitions against them to the National Assembly.
“After the meeting with the National Assembly, the oil companies started paying, each time an oil company paid, they would send us payment advice.
“I agreed to be paid 10 per cent of any amount that was recovered from the oil companies and I was given a four-year mandate.
“In total, I recovered over N100 billion and I was paid N12 billion as my commission,” he explained.
At the cross-examination, led by the EFCC, prosecutor, Ekene Iheanacho, Micheal-West also explained to the court how he made payments through his company Starline Consultancy Ltd to Building Associate Limited, owned by the second defendant Francis Momoh, at the instruction of the first defendant, Touyo Omasuli to pacify restive youths in the area.
“I was approached by the then executive director finance, directing my attention to the harassment by the Niger Delta Youths, that they sometimes lock up their gates and made several demands, so he said in order to cushion the effects on them, each time I am paid, I should appreciate them, so they can reach out to the youths.
“A Diamond Bank account was sent to me belonging to Building Associate Limited and I transferred a total amount of N3.6 Billion Naira to that account in tranches,” he said.
While he stated that the third and fourth defendants were not involved in the recovery of the debts owed to NDDC, he admitted to transferring money to the third and fourth defendants amounting to over N1 billion.
The Sub Consultancy makeup letter, Offer of Contract Letter and Acceptance Letter was tendered by the prosecution counsel, Ekene Iheanacho, and admitted in evidence by the court.
During cross-examination by the first defendant’s counsel, Kehinde Aguda, SAN, he said the payments to the Niger Delta youths was not a proceed of crime also stating it wasn’t to bribe officials of the NDDC.
Micheal-West told the court that he knew Quakers when they were invited to the EFCC office and were asked to look for a SAN to bail them.
“I, the first defendant and the third defendant were asked to bring a SAN to take us on bail, so I paid the SAN to take the third defendant on bail as I already had another SAN taking me on bail,” he said.
He further asked if he made a statement at the EFCC office. Ibinabo admitted that he made statements to the EFCC when he was invited by the Commission.
However, Justice Seidu admitted it in evidence and marked it exhibit ET 09 A & B.
According to the charge, the defendants were alleged to have committed the offence between August 2014 and September 2015.
The first defendant was alleged to have procured the third and fourth defendants Momoh and Building Associates, to utilise a total sum of N3.6 billion paid by Starline Consultancy Services Ltd into an account operated by the fourth defendant.
The prosecution inferred that they ought to have known that the said sums, formed part of the proceeds of their unlawful activities which included corruption and gratification.
The offence, the EFCC said, contravenes the provisions of Sections 15(1), 15(2), 15(3) and 18 of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011, as amended by Act No 1 of 2012.
Justice Saidu adjourned the case until June 11 for the continuation of trial.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.