October 29, 2019

Alleged N54.3m fraud: Public officers are not permitted to put govt funds in fixed deposits — Witness

Benue, Court, Grazing

An EFCC witness on Tuesday said that the law does not allow a public officer to put government money in a fixed deposit account.

Mr Patrick Ewema, a staff member of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA),  was testifying in an FCT High Court in the trial of a deputy director with the agency, Umesi John, over an alleged N54.3 million fraud.

Also read: Whistleblower remanded in prison over false alarm of N700 million pension

Emesi was on Oct. 3 re-arraigned before Justice Jude Okeke, on an amended 10-count charge bordering on misappropriation of public fund to the tune of N54.3 million.

He was alleged to have on or about Dec. 30, 2014, while acting as Director, Special Duties, used his position to confer an unfair advantage to himself.

The EFCC alleged that John paid  N12.8 million belonging to NEMA for its operation into his personal account with Keystone Bank and fixed the same in the account.

EFCC alleged that the defendant earned N309, 575 as interest for his own benefit and thereby committed an offence under Section 19 of Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.

John was alleged to have in February 2013 while serving as a deputy director in charge of South-South zone while being entrusted with the sum of N7. 5 million belonging to NEMA dishonestly converted same to his own use.

Testifying as 1st prosecution witness (PW1, Ewema, told the court that he was the zonal accountant in the Port Harcourt NEMA zonal office.

He said he was sent to make deposits into the defendant’s personal accounts with Skye Bank, Keystone Bank and EcoBank.

Led in evidence by the prosecuting counsel, Mrs Deborah Adamu, the witness, said:” the law does not allow a public officer to put government money into a fixed account” he said.

Ewema informed the court that he and the defendant were signatories to the various accounts operated by the agency’s zonal office in two banks.

He added funds to the zonal office came from the headquarters in Abuja, adding that, “funds from the headquarters is (sic) tagged to a particular needs.”

The witness said that any staff on official assignments got funds released to them from the disaster management account after they might have written memos which would be approved by the zonal office.

The PW1 stated that when approval was given for such memos, he would prepare the e-payment schedule signed by the zonal coordinator and himself for payment.

While being cross-examined by counsel for the defendant, Mr Jeph Njikoye, SAN, the witness told the court that the zonal office could release money for any staff for assignment.

After listening to the testimony, Justice Okeke adjourned until Jan. 16, 2020 for the continuation of hearing.