The Economic and Financial and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday abruptly cut short the testimony of one of its witnesses, Abubakar Umar, lined up against a former Governor of Benue State, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, and the Commissioner of Finance in his administration, Mr. Omodachi Okolobia, in their ongoing trial before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
The EFCC is prosecuting Suswam and Okolobia on money laundering charges involving the alleged diversion of N3,111,008,018.51 allegedly stolen from the proceeds of the sale of shares owned by Benue State government.
Umar, owner of a bureau de change firm, Fanffash Resources, had in his testimony narrated how Suswam, while serving as Benue State governor, allegedly instructed a cumulative transfer of N3.1bn into his company’s account between August and October 2014.
He said Suswam had instructed that the money be converted to dollars.
Led in evidence by Jacobs, the witness confirmed that N3.1bn was transferred to his firm’s account in six tranches.
He said, “The first money that was paid into my account was N413m on August 8, 2014. I was asked to convert the money into the United States dollar. I took it to the Government House. That was not the only money paid into Fanfash’s account. There were six transfers into the account.
“On September 12, 2014, they made two payments into my account. The first was N363m was paid. The second was N637m. The total amount was N1bn. As I converted the sum of N413m to dollars, I also converted the N1bn to dollars. I was instructed by the former governor to convert the money to dollars.
“On October 13, 2014, they paid N630m into my account. After about two hours later, N8,018,000.51 was paid into my account. I also converted the money into dollars.
“On October 17, 2014, N1.68bn was paid into my account. I also converted it into dollars. The former governor instructed me to convert it into dollars. The total money paid into my account was N3.11bn.
“As of that time the exchange rate was N197 per dollar. I converted the total of N3.11bn to $15.8m.”
But the witness’ testimony took a twist which was apparently not envisaged by the prosecution when he said he took $15.8m equivalent of the N3.1bn to the Government House in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, but did not hand it over directly to Suswam.
“I took the money to Government House. I don’t know if they gave the money to the governor,” he said.
When reminded by Jacobs, Umar confirmed that he remembered that he was on oath and that he had stated in his statement to the EFCC that he handed the dollar equivalent of each of the six transfers to Suswam at the former governor’s residence in Maitama Abuja.
But when asked again, he maintained that he took the money to the Government House in Makurdi and never handed it over to Suswam in person.
At that point, Jacobs sought an adjournment to decide on the next line of action.
He said the prosecution could decide to declare Umar a “hostile witness” but that he needed time to consider the available options.
Jacobs said, “The reason why I asked for an adjournment is for us to put our house in order. And if I am going to treat him as a hostile witness and ask the court to treat him so, I need to gather evidence to do that.”
The application for adjournment was opposed by the defence lawyers, Messrs Joseph Daudu (SAN), and Audu Anuga, who contended that the prosecution was seeking an adjournment in order to intimidate the witness.
Anuga sought an order restraining the prosecution from arresting, intimidating or harassing the witness by the prosecution.
Daudu associated himself with Anuga’s submission, saying the allegation that the witness could be tortured and harassed by agents of the state.
They sought an order protecting the witness.
Jacobs denied the claim by the defence lawyers, adding that their prayer for protection of the witness showed that he (the witness) was being interfered with.
He added, “The vehement manner that they are going about the protection of the witness, goes to confirm our suspicion as to the manner in which our witnesses are being interfered with even by those who had given evidence. I have complained to the counsel.
“If the application is granted, that will amount to robber stamping the attempts that are being made on my witnesses.”
Justice Ahmed Mohammed refused the defence lawyers’ prayer.