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How Diezani shared $115m –Witness

•As EFCC re-arraigns Belgore, Sulaiman

By Lukman Olabiyi

Timothy Olaobaju, the first prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Muhammed Dele Belgore and a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, yesterday, before the Federal High Court, Lagos, revealed how  former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, stashed $115million in the bank.

The witness, who was led in evidence by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, before Justice Rilwan Aikawa also told the court how Diezani, subsequently, gave instruction to change the foreign currency into naira and distribute same among individuals in the 36 states of the federation.

Olaobaju said Belgore and Sulaiman received N450 million from the fund.

Meanwhile, the two accused persons have been re-arraigned by EFCC before the court on five-court amended charge, bordering on money laundering.

Diezani, who is said to be “still at large” was mentioned in the amended charge preferred against the accused persons.

The EFCC had earlier arraigned Belgore and Sulaiman on February 8. Upon their re-arraignment yesterday, Belgore and Sulaiman pleaded not guilty to the charge just as they had earlier done.

Trial commenced immediately after the defendants’ plea were taken by the court and the prosecution opened its case by calling Olaobaju as its first witness.

“Sometime in April 2014, our Managing Director, Mr Nnamdi Okonkwo gave a directive that certain companies and individuals would pay some amounts of money into an account with our bank. The purpose of the payment was not disclosed.

“Over the period, thereafter, some amounts were paid into the account. The funds were deposited in dollar. The total sum was $115,010,000,” Olaobaju began.

He said on March 27, 2015, there was an instruction from the former Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, through the bank’s Managing Director, that the fund in the account should be converted to naira and paid to certain individuals of whose names were listed and sent to the bank’s managing director with the amount to be paid to each beneficiary in naira. He said the funds were paid according to Alison-Madueke’s instructions.

“On the list sent to our branch, the names of the defendants (Belgore and Sulaiman) were there because the money was paid in about 36 states of the federation. The defendants are not customers of our bank.

“The instruction was that N450 million should be paid to Mr Dele Belgore (SAN) and Prof. Abubakar Suleiman. They both received the money and they filled the receipt of payment as evidence of receipt of the money and acknowledgement of same,” the witness informed the court.

Olaobaju said Belgore and Sulaiman signed separate receipts of payment for the same N450 million.

The court admitted both receipts of payment in evidence and marked them as Exhibits 1 and 1A.

When Oyedepo asked the witness whether any cheque was issued in favour of Belgore and Sulaiman in respect of the fund, he said none was issued.

The prosecutor further asked whether the N450 million was credited into any account and the witness said no.

For the cross-examination of the witness, Belgore’s lawyer, Chief Ebun Shofunde (SAN), asked for an adjournment, as he said most of what the witness said yesterday were not in the proof of evidence front-loaded and served on the defence counsel.

Sulaiman’s lawyer, Mr Olatunji Ayanlaja (SAN) aligned himself with Shofunde.

Justice Aikawa, consequently, adjourned the matter till today for further proceedings.

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