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N2.5bn Digital Switch-Over:  ICPC indicts Lai Mohammed in fresh discovery

Says Ex-Minister to appear in Court for fraud

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FORMER Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed is to appear before a Federal High Court, Abuja, to explain his role in the alleged misapplication of N2.5 billion Federal Government Digital Switch-Over (DSO) programme.

The Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), in a statement issued on Thursday, Abuja stated that the former minister’s appearance became imperative following fresh discovery during investigations, that a government White Paper that governs the execution of the DSO programme was allegedly flouted by the head of NBC.

The Commission is currently prosecuting the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, over alleged abuse of office and money laundering.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had earlier in January tasked the anti-graft agency to probe Mohammed for his involvement in the fraudulent deal.

Mohammed, who is at the centre of the fraud was also contacted by The ICIR on his alleged involvement in the scam but never responded until he later acknowledged he was deceived into the deal.

ICPC had filed a 12-count charge before Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo-Giwa, against Kawu, Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade, the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Communications Limited respectively,  saying that the NBC director- general misled the former minister into approving government funds for a private company.

Mohammed had however admitted in a statement to the Commission that he was misled by Kawu, as opined in court by a witness from ICPC, Osanato Olugbemi.

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Olugbemi, led in evidence by counsel to ICPC, Henry Emore, also told the court that the payment of N2.5 billion from NBC to Pinnacle Communications Limited, as seed grant was suspicious because ICPC found out through its investigations that only government-owned company was approved to benefit from the grant according to the White Paper.

According to the statement, the court also heard that the processes that led to the final payment of the fund to the private company were shrouded in secrecy as revealed by the minute from an NBC emergency board management meeting where issues of carriage fees owed Pinnacle and not seed grant was discussed.

He told the court that 47 suspicious transactions were originated by the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications, Omoluwa, immediately after the receipt of the funds on June 2, 2017.

Some of the transactions include payments of N363 million to one Idowu Olatunde, N274.4 million to one James Segun and N127 million to Dipo Onifade, the Chief Operating Officer of the company.

He informed the court that Omoluwa refused to explain the reasons for the payments to Olatunde and James when asked by ICPC, but Onifade explained that he received the N127 million as legal fees he rendered to Pinnacle Communications Limited.

A Bureau de Change operator, Salisu Mamman Daura, who also testified in court, said he received N167 million in two instalments of N97 million and N70 million respectively, from Pinnacle Communications Limited.

Daura added that the sums were converted into $265, 000 and $195, 735 respectively, at the rate of N360 to an American dollar, and handed in cash to one Alhaji Sabo, supposedly on behalf of Pinnacle Communications.

Counsel to the accused persons, Alex Iziyon (SAN), A Yusuf and A. V. Etuwewe for Omoluwa, Onifade, Kawu and Pinnacle Communications respectively, took turns to cross-examine both witnesses after which the matter was adjourned till July 1, 2019 for continuation of trial and ruling on two pending motions by the trial judge.

 

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