N3.1bn Fraud: Big relief for ex-Benue Governor as EFCC witness fumbles in court
… EFCC declares uncooperative witness hostile
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Wednesday declared as “hostile” one of its prosecution witnesses, Abubakar Umar, lined up against a former Governor of Benue State, Mr. Gabriel Suswam before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
By declaring its witness hostile, the prosecution instead of leading the witness in evidence will cross-examine him because of the perceived uncooperative attitude of the said witness towards the prosecution.
The EFCC is prosecuting Suswam and the Commissioner of Finance in his administration, Mr. Omodachi Okolobia, on money laundering charges involving alleged diversion of a total sum of N3,111,008,018.51 said to have been stolen from proceeds of the sale of shares owned by the state government.
Lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), told the court that he took the decision to declare Umar a hostile witness given the contradiction between the witness’ written statement and his testimony before the court earlier on May 5, 2016.
The prosecution had, during the proceedings of May 5, 2016, abruptly cut short Umar’s testimony due to the perceived contradiction in his oral evidence.
Umar, the fourth prosecution witness in the case and owner of a bureau de change firm, Fanffash Resources, had in his testimony narrated how Suswam, while serving as Benue State Governor, allegedly instructed a cumulative transfer of N3.1bn into his company’s account between August and October 2014.
He said Suswam had instructed that the money be converted to dollar.
Led in evidence by Jacobs, the witness confirmed that the sum of N3.1bn was transferred to his firm’s account in six tranches and converted to dollar at the exchange rate of N197 to a dollar with the cumulative sum of $15.8m allegedly handed over to the governor.
But while still being led in evidence-in-chief, the witness’ testimony took a twist – which was apparently not envisaged by the prosecution – when he said he took the total of $15.8m equivalent of the N3.1bn to the Government House in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, but did not hand it over directly to Suswam.
“I took the money to Government House. I don’t know if they gave the money to the governor,” he said.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Wednesday, over a year after the previous proceedings, Jacobs urged the trial judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, to declare Umar a hostile witness.
Jacobs relied on the provisions of sections 230 and 231 of the Evidence Act in his submissions.
He said, “When we came before this court on May 5, 2016, we led the PW4 in evidence. It was that the witness resigned from his previous deposition and the statement we frontloaded, particularly to the question of who he (Umar) gave the money to after it was changed into dollars.
“I apply to the court to declare such witness as a hostile, so as to enable the prosecution to cross-examine the witness. This will enable him to explain the reason for departing from his extra-judicial statement.”
In his response to the application, Suswam’s lawyer, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), said he would not oppose the motion, but urged the court to limit the prosecution to the sole issue of inconsistency in the witness’ testimony.
He said the provisions of the Evidence Act in Sections 230, 231 and 232 cited by the prosecution did not permit the prosecution to cross-examine the witness limitlessly.
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