A former Acting Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Calistus Obi, on Monday admitted that part of the N331million belonging to the agency which he was alleged to have diverted was used to build an hotel.
He made the revelation during his cross-examination at his on-going trial over the before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on April 12, 2016, arraigned Obi, alongside one, Alu Dismas, a former personal assistant to the immediate past DG of NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi, and two firms, before the court on an 8-count charge of converting N331 million belonging to agency for personal use.
The two firms involved are Grand Pact Limited and Global Sea Investment.
While being cross-examined by the EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, the witness, who was also a former NIMASA Executive Director, Maritime Labor and Cabotage Service, disclosed that he transferred part of the diverted money to a firm known as Seastroke International, which built an hotel for him in Asaba, Delta state.
He however claimed he has refunded the money when asked to do so by the EFCC.
“I used part of the money to build my hotel constructed by Seastroke International. But the money has since been refunded to the EFCC.
“The hotel is located somewhere in Asaba, Delta state. I can’t recollect the address now. The building is completed and is already functioning. The title document of the hotel is being processed, but I have the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) and I can produce it before the court”, he said.
At this juncture, Obi’s lawyer, Wale Akoni (SAN) expressed his disapproval of Oyedepo’s questioning his client about the title document of the hotel.
He said, “My lord, I am opposed to this line of questioning by the prosecution’s lawyer. The ownership of the hotel is not an issue in these proceedings. The prosecution is only trying to device means of seizing the title document through the back door.”
In his response, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to allow him continue with his enquiry about the hotel saying the witness had already admitted deploying part of the allegedly diverted money to building it.
“The witness has admitted that part of the funds allegedly diverted by him was used in building the hotel that is now functioning. At the end of this case, the law as it stands today empowers my lord to forfeit property acquired with proceeds of unlawful activity.
“Section 30 of the EFCC’s Act empowers the court to forfeits proceeds of unlawful activity. I urge the court to allow us ask questions that will lead to the recovery of the title document so that it can form part of the court’s record,” Oyedepo said.
In a bench ruling, the court while dismissing Akoni’s objections held that “the questions asked on the title document is in order and the issue of the EFCC trying to forcefully seize it does not arise”.
Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to March 7 by 12noon.
In the charge marked FHC/L/148C/16, the accused persons were said to have committed the offence on August 5, 2014.
They were said to have conspired to convert the said sum, which is the property of NIMASA, and knowing same to be proceeds of stealing.
The offence is said to be contravention of the provisions of Sections 15 and 18(a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 2012.
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