Judge flays EFCC’s inconsistency in ex-NIMASA boss trial

Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court in Lagos last Thursday expressed displeasure over the inconsistency on the part of the prosecution in the trial of former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Raymond Temisan Omatseye.
The judge particularly frowned on the incessant amendment to the charges brought against Omatseye by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The EFCC had amended the charge filed in 2010, and on which proceedings commenced in early 2011, three times without any explanation as regard the motive behind such amendments.
When prosecution lawyer, Godwin Obla, announced his intention to amend the charge again last Thursday, defence lawyer, Olusina Sofola (SAN), expressed dismay over the prosecution’s action.

Although Sofola did not oppose the amendment, he urged the court to note that it was the third time the prosecution was amending its charge since the case commenced about two years ago.
He contended that such practice has occasioned delay in the case.

The EFCC had first arraigned Omatseye in early 2011 on an 11-count charge in which he was charged with alleged diversion of public funds and contract splitting.
Specifically, he was accused of unlawfully transferring £300,000 from NIMASA’s Barclays Bank, London, account to fund the campaign of one Mrs. Mbanefo, who was aspiring to be the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The trial had commenced with the prosecution calling some of its witnesses.

The prosecution later withdrew the charge and replaced it with that dated June 12, 2012, but filed on June 13, 2012, resulting in a delay in trial.
The latest amendment has, however, altered the texture of the trial.
Sofola, told the court that the new charge “is totally different.”
He said: “It is amazing that the prosecution has chosen to file a totally different new charge. There should be an end to this trial.” Sofola said.
He noted that the charge of unlawful transfer of 300,000 pounds and charges of contract splitting have been expunged, bringing in new charges of approval above threshold and bid rigging.
The new charge of 27 counts, containing allegations of contract splitting and bid rigging, was read to him.
He denied culpability by pleading not guilty, subsequent upon which the prosecution called its first witness.

The witness, an Investigative Police Officer (IPO) with the EFCC, Ibrahim Ahmed, gave evidence in relation to his involvement in the investigation of the petition written to the agency, against NIMASA management, from the Ministry of Transport headed by the then minister, Yusuf Suleiman.
Obla, through the witness, tendered over 20 statements and documents relating to contracts allegedly approved and awarded by NIMASA under Omatseye between January and July 2010.
The statements tendered and admitted by the court include three made by Omatseye on November 24, 25 and 30 November 2010 and those by some management staff.
Upon the agreement of parties, Obla sought an adjournment, which Justice Ajumogobia granted, but directed Obla to ensure diligent prosecution.
Determined to ensure swift hearing of the case, Justice Ajumogobia adjourned to February 6, 8 and 8, 2013, for continuation of trial.

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