Diezani’s $115m bribe: Court admits list of beneficiaries

Diezani Alison-Madueke
Diezani Alison-Madueke

The Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday admitted as exhibit a document containing the list of individuals from the 36 states of the federation who benefited from a sum of $115,010,000, that was distributed by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, during the run-up to the 2015 general elections.

The document was tendered before the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the trial of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dele Belgore, who was said to have received N450m from the $115,010,000 Diezani’s funds.

The EFCC is prosecuting Belgore alongside a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, with whom he allegedly laundered the money on March 27, 2015.

Belgore and Sulaiman had been arraigned for the alleged offence on February 8, 2017 before Justice Rilwan Aikawa and they had pleaded not guilty.

At the previous proceedings in the case, the first prosecution witness, Timothy Olaobaju, an official of a bank, had narrated to the court how Diezani had lodged the $115.01m in the financial institution with subsequent instructions that the money should be changed to naira and distributed among certain individuals whose names were in a list she forwarded to the bank.

However, attempt by the prosecuting counsel,  Rotimi Oyedepo, to tender the list as an exhibit was resisted by Sulaiman’s lawyer, Olatunji Ayanlaja (SAN), who contended that the document did not completely comply with the provisions of Section 84 of the Evidence Act and urged Justice Aikawa to reject it.

In a ruling on Thursday, however, Justice Aikawa dismissed the objection, holding that the document satisfied the requirements of the Evidence Act for admissibility.

The judge held, “What the Evidence Act intends to do is to simplify and not to complicate the process of admitting documents in court. Any officer of the financial institution is competent to tender the document even if he is not the maker of the said document.

“The document and its attachment are one and same is admissible and can be tendered by the PW1.”

After the list was admitted in evidence, Belgore’s counsel, Ebun Shofunde (SAN), continued with the cross-examination of Olaobaju, which he had begun since the previous hearing in the case.

Under cross-examination, Olaobaju, confirmed that he volunteered a statement to the EFCC on January 9, 2017.

He affirmed that he did not mention Diezani’s name in the said statement.

But as Olaobaju was about to give further explanations as to why Diezani’s name was not mentioned in the statement, the defence lawyers promptly interjected and insisted that the further explanation was not needed.

At this point, Shofunde sought an adjournment so as to enable the prosecution to produce the said statement made by the witness.

Consequently, the judge adjourned until May 2, 2017 for the EFCC to make available the said statement.

In the charges, Sulaiman, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Abuja, and Belgore, a former governorship aspirant in Kwara State, were accused of conspiring between themselves to commit the offence on March 27, 2015.

The duo were accused of making a cash transaction of N450m on March 27, 2015, without going through any financial institution.

The EFCC claimed that the defendants paid N50m to one Sheriff Shagaya.

The EFCC said the cash sum was above the lawful threshold permitted by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.

The EFCC claimed that the defendants “ought to have reasonably known that the N450m formed part of proceeds of an unlawful act.”

Belgore and Sulaiman were accused of violating sections 1(a), 16(d), 15(2)(d) and18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.

The prosecution said they are liable to be punished under sections 15(3)(4), and 16(2)(b) of the same Act.