BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIR, Abuja
Respite came the way of the erstwhile Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Dimeji Bankole, yesterday, as the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, discharged and acquitted him over allegation that he used fake companies and defrauded the federal government to the tune of N894 million while he was in office.
While upholding a no-case-application that was filed before the court by the former Speaker, Justice Evoh Chukwu, held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, failed to establish a prima-facie criminal case against the accused person.
Consequently, Justice Chukwu, quashed the entire 16-count charge against the ex-Speaker, saying he was satisfied that the accused person has no case to answer with respect to the charge.
According to the Judge, “The prosecution failed to prove that the accused person acted with the intent to defraud. There is no evidence that the accused unilaterally or in conjunction with anybody inflated prices of contracts. Evidence of the prosecution never showed that the accused entered into agreement with either the supplier or contractors.
“There is no justification for the continuation of this trial, the prosecution failed to disclose a prima-facie case to warrant the court to demand explanations from the accused person. There is no nexus connecting the accused with the alleged offence.
“Besides, none of the witnesses linked the accused with the award of the alleged contracts or showed that he entered into collusive agreement with anybody with regard to the offence contained in the charge.
“From the preponderance of evidence before the court, there is an agreement that the accused does not know any of the companies or any of the contractors. Prosecution witnesses testified that contracts within the upper-limit were only approved by principal officers of the House of the Representatives.
“The question the prosecution has failed to provide answer to remains, at the end of the contract, did the accused person enjoy any personal benefit? There was nothing in evidence so far laid that will require any further explanation by the accused. There is no evidence that he acted in breach of the Public Procurement Act.
“There is nothing to show that he selected or superintended over the bidding process, nothing to show that he is a signatory to the account or any of the companies that got the contract.
“What explanation does the court then require the accused to give based on evidence adduced by both the prosecution and the witnesses?
“It is my considered view that the prosecution has not disclosed any corrupt, unlawful influence, bribery or corruption by the accused in the award of the contracts.
“Section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution placed the onus on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused person who by law is presumed innocent until otherwise proved.
“The no-case submission succeeds, accordingly, the accused is hereby discharged and acquitted,” the trial Judge held.
Specifically, Bankole who was on 11 November 2013, re-arraigned before the court on an amended 16-count charge preferred against him by the EFCC, had through his counsel Chief O.Akoni, SAN, maintained that the anti-graft body failed to establish his complicity in the alleged contract fraud.
Contending that he neither approved nor supervised the execution of the said contracts, the former Speaker, insisted that in the absence of evidence, there was no basis to allow him to pass through the rigours of trial.
Basically, EFCC, alleged that Bankole rigged bid for the purchase of 3 units of Mercedes Benz S-600 cars, 2 units of Range Rover vehicles (without bullet proofs) and 400 units of DSTV systems, by refusing to follow all the procedures prescribed for public procurements in Sections 17 to 56 of the Public Procurement Act No.14 of 2007, leading to a loss of value to the national treasury and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 58(4)(e) of the Public Procurement Act, No.14 of 2007 and punishable under Section 58(5) of the same Act.
It told the court that some of the alleged deals that formed the conduit pipes through which monies were pilfered by the accused person, included the purchase of 400 units of 40-inch Samsung (LNS. 341) television sets, 800 units of Desktop Computers (HP Compaq dc 5700), 100 units of Sharp Digital Copier 5316, 400 units of HP LaserJet 2600N, among others.
To prove the complicity of the accused person, EFCC, called six witnesses and tendered several evidences it urged the court to rely upon and convict the ex-Speaker.
Among those that testified included the Clerk of the House, Mr Mohammed Sani Omololu, investigative officers of the EFCC and BPE officials.
Some of the witnesses had narrated how bulk of the contract sum was lodged into an account maintained in the Kaduna branch of Zenith Bank by a company, Multigate Resources Services Limited, whose address could not be traced by EFCC.
The lead Investigator, Mr. Ibrahim Ahmed, told the court that whereas the contract funds were released via Cheques in the name of different companies, the monies ended up in the same Zenith Bank account in Kaduna.
The witness, who testified as Pw-1, insisted that spirited efforts by EFCC to trace the locations of the companies were futile as the addresses found on the contract award documents purported to belong to the companies, were non-existent.
He said the investigation was prompted by a petition that was lodged before the anti-graft agency by Bankole’s colleagues in the House of Reps, led by Mr Dino Melaye.
Ahmed said, “We wrote to the banks and requested for the statements of the accounts. We analysed them and discovered that the cheques were cleared with one account called Multigate Resources Limited with Zenith Bank, domiciled in Kaduna.
”We also collected the account opening packages and we doscovered that it had the same address with the company we could not locate.”