By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Absence of prosecution witnesses, Monday, stalled trial of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s cousin, Robert Azibaola and his wife, Stella.
The duo are answering to a seven-count charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against them before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
They are facing trial over alleged $40million contract scam.
At the resumed sitting on the case on Monday, EFCC lawyer, Mr. Tahir Sylvanus, regretted his inability to produce the witnesses, even as he pleaded for the matter to be adjourned till March 13 and 14.
Mr. Tahir told the court that he would be able to assemble his witnesses and conclude his evidence-in-chief within two days and rest his case.
The adjournment request was not opposed by counsel to the defendants, Chief Chris Uche, SAN.
In a ruling, trial Justice Nnamdi Dimgba granted the request of the EFCC, even as he sought more cooperation of the parties for speedy determination of the case.
It will be recalled that Azibaola was arrested on March 23, 2016, and subsequently arraigned before the high court after he had spent 90 days in EFCC custody.
The anti-graft agency has so far called four witnesses who have all denied knowing the defendants or having anything to do with their company, Oneplus Holdings Nig. Ltd.
One of the witnesses, Mr. Ibrahim Mahe, a retired Permanent Secretary in the former NSA’s office and EFCC’s star witness, told the court on June 28, 2016, that the funds to which the defendants are being prosecuted, was duly approved, adding that only the former NSA, Col Sambo Dasuki, retd, could say otherwise.
In his testimony, a compliance officer with Zenith Bank, Mr. Boladode Faremo, told the court that Azibaola and his wife were “high net worth customers of the bank”.
The witness insisted that the inflow of $40m into account of the defendants was inconsequential considering their worth.
He said no query had been issued against the defendants in respect of their transactions with the bank
Justice Dimgba had in a ruling on June 8, 2016, granted the defendants who are facing trial alongside their firm, Oneplus Holding Limited, bail to the tune of N1billion.
They were directed to deposit N500million each, as well as produce two sureties in the like sum.
The court held that the sureties must be owners of landed properties in either Maitama or Asokoro Ditrsicts of Abuja and must produce evidence that they paid income tax for the past three years.
The defendants were remanded in Kuje Prison until they were able to perfect the bail terms.
Meanwhile, charges against the defendants attract punishment varying from 7 to 14 years imprisonment upon conviction.
One of the charge against the defendants read: “That you Azibaola Robert being the Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer and a signatory to the Zenith Bank account of One Plus Holdings Nigeria Limited, Mrs. Stella Azibaola Robert, being a director and a signatory to the account of One Plus Holdings Nigeria Limited and Amobi Ogum( now at large) on or about 8th September, 2014 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court did conspire among yourselves to commit an illegal act to wit: money laundering of the sum of $40million transferred to the domiciliary account of One Plus Holdings Nigeria Limited with Zenith Bank, Account No. 5070365750 from the account of ONSA with the Central Bank of Nigeria upon a mandate Ref. No. 128/S.5LX/139 purporting to be for the supply of Tactical Communication Kits for Special Services and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 8(a) of the Money Laundering( Prohibition) Act 2011 as amended in 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act”.