Ex-gov pressurized witness to distort evidence, EFCC tells court
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—A Bureau De Change operator, Mr. Abubakar Umar, yesterday, maintained before the Federal High Court in Abuja that he had between August and October 2014, helped the former governor of Benue State, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, to convert N3.111 billion into dollars.
However, contrary to earlier claim that he handed the money which he said amounted to $15.8milllion, to the defendant at the Benue State government house, Umar, who testified as the fourth prosecution witness, PW-4, told the court that he delivered the money to Suswam at his private residence at Maitama, Abuja.
Suswam who was governor of Benue State from 2007 to 2015 is facing to a nine-count money laundering charge alongside his erstwhile Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Omodachi Okolobia.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alleged that the duo looted over N3.1 billion, being proceeds of shares owned by the Benue State government and Benue Investment and Property Company Ltd.
At the resumed hearing, yesterday, EFCC alleged that Suswam had pressurised the PW-4 to distort the evidence he gave on May 5, 2016.
EFCC told the court that the witness had in an earlier statement on August 12, 2017, narrated how Suswam reached out to him through his agents and lawyers.
Recall that the prosecution had at the last adjourned date, persuaded the court to declare Umar as a “hostile witness”, after the PW-4 gave evidence in the open court that contradicted his previous statement before EFCC.
Whereas he told EFCC that he personally delivered the dollar equivalent of the N3.1 billion to Suswam at his Abuja residence, the witness, in his evidence-in-chief before the court, said he took the money to the government house.
Due to discrepancy in his evidence, trial Justice Ahmed Mohammed gave EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, the nod to cross-examine his “hostile witness.”
Under cross-examination yesterday, the witness made a U-turn, admitting that exchange of the dollars took place in Abuja.
Asked why he then told the court that he took the money to government house, the witness said: “No, I said I took the money to Governor’s residence, and where the Governor stays is government house,” noting that it was the person that recorded his statement that added Benue.
However, the witness who spoke through an Hausa interpreter, stood his ground that contrary to what was contained in his statement at EFCC, he said Suswam never received the money from him personally.
Umar had told the court that Suswam requested for the account number of his company – Fanffash Resources- through which he wired funds from the Benue State treasury on six separate occasions.
He told the court that though he started buying and selling of currency since 1990, he opened his own company in 2014 with Suswam as one of his major clients.
According to him, “I know the 1st defendant. In 2014, he brought so many businesses to me involving the change of money. In August 2014, I was in my office when I was called by the former governor. He asked me to meet him in his house at Maitama in Abuja. He called me with his number 08180505050 through my own line 08062666661. When I got to his house, the governor said I should give my account number to one fair lady. He told me they will deposit money into the account. I was asked to use the money that will be deposited inside the account to buy US dollars and bring it to government house.
“It was the former governor that gave me the instruction. The first amount that was paid into the account was N413 million. He asked me to convert the money to dollars. The money was paid on August 8, 2014.”
“When I converted the money I took it to the government house. I remember that I made a statement to the EFCC. Money was transferred into my account six times. On September 12, 2014, two payments were made into my account. The first one was N363 million and then N637m. The payments amounted to N1billion.
“I was asked to convert the money into dollars by the former governor. On October 14, 2014, N630m was paid into my account. After two hours, N818m was also paid into my account. I converted them to dollars and sent to the governor. On October 17, 2014, N1.68billon was paid into my account. The total amount paid into my account was N3.111billion. as at that time, dollar rate was N197. In total, I took $15.8m to the government house in Benue state”, the witness added.
He however told the court that Suswam did not personally collect the money from him each of the times he went to the government house.
Meantime, Justice Mohammed adjourned till March 14 to determine whether or not the said statement where the witness allegedly revealed how the ex-governor pressurised him to lie, should be admitted into evidence or not.
Suswam had through his team of lawyers led by Mr. J. B. Daudu, SAN, challenged the admissibility of the statement which the witness who could not write in English language, authorised his brother in-law, Mr. Idris Yakubu, who he took to EFCC, to wrote for him.
Daudu, SAN, contended that the witness was not the original maker of the said indicting statement since he did not write it himself.