THE NATION-——A Federal High Court in Abuja heard yesterday how former Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam allegedly diverted about N3.1 billion, which formed part of the proceeds of the sale of the state’s investment.
A prosecution witness, Junaidu Saidu, said at the resumed trial of Suswam and the ex-Finance Commissioner, Omodachi Okolobia, how the ex-governor allegedly raised over N9 billion from the sale of the state’s shares, from which he purportedly diverted N3, 111, 008, 018.51k.
Saidu, an investigator with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was the first prosecution witness when trial opened yesterday in the nine-count charge brought against Suswam and Okolobia by the EFCC.
The witness, who was led in evidence by lead prosecution lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), said the ex-governor and his Finance commissioner realised about N9.4 billion in the sale of the shares belonging to the state government and its investment agency, Benue Investment and Property Company (BIPC ) Limited, using a stockbroking firm – Elixir Investment Partners Limited.
Saidu, who said he was part of the EFCC team that investigated the petition against Suswam and Okolobiato, said upon enquiry, the clerk of the House of Assembly denied knowledge of when the Assembly authorised the sale of the shares.
He said Elixir Investment, acting on the directive by the two accused, paid the proceeds of the share sale into three accounts, from which N3.1 was converted to $15,800,000, whiallegedly handed over to Suswam in his home at Maitaima, Abuja.
“Investigation revealed that the 1st defendant (Suswam) requested that shares owned by the Benue State government be sold for N10 billion to be raised. Thereafter, Elixir Investment Partners were appointed as stockbrokers to cary out the sale of the shares.
“In carrying out this directive, Elixir realised over N9 billion. Elixir Investment Partners were thereafter instructed to pay the money into three accounts. The payment instruction was for N1 billion to be paid into BIPC account, while the balance was to be paid into two accounts with the names of Benue State Ministry of Finance.
“Investigation revealed that these directives were carried out by Elixir, but when Elixir attempted to make payments into the two accounts, it discovered that one of the accounts did not belong to the Ministry of Finance, but to Fanffash Resources, a bureau de change firm,” Saidu said.
He added that upon realising that one of the accounts belonged to a private firm, Elixir contacted Okolobia, who gave the stockbroking firm the go ahead to make the payment, which it eventually did.
The witness said information from Zenith Bank Plc, the bank into which the payments were made, showed that N5 billion was paid into the Ministry of Finance account while N3, 111, 008, 018.51k was paid into Fanffash Resources account.
“Subsequently, the owner of Fanffash Resources, Abubakar Umar, was invited. He confirmed the receipt of the N3, 111, 008, 018.51k and said he converted same to dollars, amounting to $15,800,000. He added that he delivered the money to the 1st defendant (Suswam) at his residence in Maitama, Abuja,” Saidu said.
He added that Okolobia admitted, in his statement, that he received N370 million from the Finance Ministry’s cashier in three instalments of N150 million, N100 million and N120 million, funds which were allegedly withdrawn from the ministry’s account into which Elixir allegedly paid N5 billion from the share sale proceeds.
Before Saidu ended his evidence-in-chief, the prosecution tendered through him, the petition against Suswam and Okolobia, their statements to the EFCC and bank statements in relation to the accounts into which the share sale proceeds were paid.
Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed admitted the documents in evidence and adjourned to January 18 following a request by defence lawyer, Joseph Daudu (SAN) for time to enable the defence team acquaint itself with the witness’ evidence before it could cross examine him.
Prior to Daudu’s arrival, the court refused a plea by Ahmed Raji (SAN) and Audu Adoga (for the defence) for time to enable them prepare their case. Raji had told the court that they have not been successful in their effort to reach the bureau de change operator named in the charge.
Jacobs opposed Raji’s request. He expressed surprise that Raji said they were making effort to reach the individuals who the prosecution has listed as its witnesses.
Suswam and Okolobia are being tried on a 9-count charge of money laundering and abuse of trust over their alleged diversion of the proceeds of the 2014 share sale, using Elixir Investment Partners and Fanffash Resources.