On Wednesday, July 11, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) called its first witness on the money laundering suit against Mr Paul Usoro, President of the Nigerian Bar Association.
This comes six weeks after a Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos dismissed an application by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, asking that the trial of Usoro be adjourned indefinitely.
Usoro is being arraigned for allegedly laundering the sum of N1.4 billion owned by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa presided over the matter.
The EFCC witness is identified as Udom Idongesit, a Relations Manager at the Aka Road branch of a new generation bank in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The witness was summoned after the dismissal of the application presented by Mr. Udom Emmanuel, seeking an adjournment was dismissed by the court. The application was dismissed on the ground that it challenged the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit against Usoro.
The Akwa Ibom Governor had filed the application because he was identified as one of the persons who allegedly conspired with Usoro to allegedly launder the N1.4bn. He proposed in the application that due to his name being mentioned, the suit should be voided because the position of ‘governor’ immunes him from prosecution.
Notwithstanding, the court on dismissing the application held that his name being mentioned does not guarantee that he was a defendant in the case.
But the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, argued that the sine die adjournment prayed for was tantamount to a stay of proceedings which Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act; Section 40 of the EFCC Act and the Supreme Court forbids from entertaining.
The prosecutor argued that Emmanuel could not ask for an adjournment since the court had pronounced that he was not a party to the charge.
Justice Aikawa agreed with the EFCC lawyer, paving the way for the commencement of trial.
While giving her testimony, Idongesit, told the court that sometime in March 2016 when she went to Akwa Ibom State Government House in Uyo on a “marketing call”, she eavesdropped on a discussion between Emmanuel and the state’s Accountant General about paying certain sums of money to Usoro.
“This payment, I got to understand, should have gone to Access Bank. I took that as information for myself because the business I do basically thrives on information. I got back to my office and checked through the system to see if the defendant (Usoro) has an account with Zenith Bank and I found no such account existed,” Idongesit said.
After she found no account, Idongesit she made tried to persuade Usoro to have an account with Zenith Bank so that the money which Emmanuel spoke of can be sent to Usoro via Zenith Bank.
She said following her efforts, on March 10, 2016, “Aka Road branch of the bank was given a withdrawal instrument of N700m on the imprest account of Akwa Ibom State Accountant General.”
Afterwards, Idongesit said she collected Usoro’s mobile number from Emmanuel on March 14, 2016, and called him to disclose that she had the payment of the defendant and he needed to open an account.
Idongesit said Usoro instructed her to work with two of his colleagues. “When I confirmed the exact names registered on the form, I sought the approval of my zonal head to open the account and made the deposit while waiting for documentation.
“I filled the deposit slip and the depositor’s name that I filled was Paul Usoro,” Idongesit told the court.
The court in its ruling admitted the evidence and marked the bank instructions indicating the withdrawal of N700m from the Accountant General’s imprest account as exhibits.
Also marked as exhibit were the documents of the Zenith Bank account opened for Usoro.
Justice Aikawa adjourned further proceedings till October 21, 2019.