By Onozure Dania
The trial of Internet celebrity, Ismaila Mustapha, alias Momph, over alleged N32.9billion fraud, before a Federal High court sitting in Lagos, yesterday commenced with three witnesses who testified before the court.
Mompha is standing trial on a 14 count charge bordering on fraud, money laundering and running a foreign exchange business without the authorisation of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
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He was arraigned on Monday alongside a firm, Ismalob Global Investment Limited.
The EFCC accused Mompha of procuring Ismalob Global Investment Limited and retaining in its bank account an aggregate of N32.9bn between 2015 and 2018.
EFCC prosecution witness who is, a compliance officer with Fidelity Bank, Peter Adegoke, told the court that Ismalob Global Investment Limited has an account domiciled in Fidelity Bank.
Adegoke who gave evidence as to the second witness, told Justice Mohammed Liman, that Mompha was the sole signatory to the naira account.
While reading from the firm’s statement of account, Adegoke, who was led in evidence by the EFCC lawyer, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, told the court that between 2015 and October 2019, there was a total inflow of N18.5bn into the account, while a total of about N18bn moved out within the same period.
He said the account had a balance of N598,000.
Under cross-examination by the defence counsel, Mr Gboyega Oyewole (SAN), Adegoke, said that his bank would not involve itself in anything unlawful.
Asked whether the bank at any time reported transactions in the firm’s account as being suspicious, Adegoke said, “Yes, we reported to the NFIU (Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit).”
Asked what the NFIU’s response was, the witness said, “They (NFIU) don’t need to respond to us.”
Asked if there was any sanction following the report to the NFIU, Adegoke said he would not know.
When Oyewole insisted that as a compliance officer, who is responsible for the freezing of bank accounts at the requests of anti-graft agency, he should know if there was a sanction, Adegoke explained that Fidelity Bank has a desk that handles reports to the NFIU and “I can’t say I know about all sanctions.”
Earlier, an official of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mrs Anne Ezekannagha, who testified as to the first prosecution witness, told the court that CBN has no record of licensing Ismalob Global Investment Limited as a Bureau de Change operator.
She said that for the CBN to licence a firm as a BDC operator, such a firm must show evidence of incorporation as a limited liability company by the Corporate Affairs Commission.
Ezekannagha explained that all licensed BDCs have a transaction limit of $5,000.
When the defence counsel, Oyewole, asked her whether it was unlawful for an individual who has foreign currency in his domiciliary account to give foreign currency to a friend in exchange for naira, the CBN official said it would not be unlawful if it was not a commercial transaction.
She said it becomes a commercial transaction if it involves making a profit and it would be illegal.
A Benin City-based BDC operator, Ikenna Okafor, who testified as to the third prosecution witness, told the court that he did business with Ismalob Global Investment Limited through “one of its directors, Alhaji Ahmadu Mohammed.”
Okafor said Mohammed used to come to his base in Benin, Edo State, to buy Euro in the name of Ismalob Global Investment Limited.
“After negotiation with Ismalob Global Investment Limited through Alhaji Mohammed, he usually makes payment into my account through Ismalob,” Okafor said.
Under cross-examination by Oyewole, Okafor said he met Mompha for the first time three days ago at the EFCC office in Ikoyi.
The BDC operator said he was also detained for seven days by the EFCC before being released on an administrative bail during the week.
Justice Liman adjourned further proceedings till January 8, 2020.
Meanwhile, the judge admitted Mompha to bail in the sum of N100m with one surety who must be a landed property owner.
He was ordered to deposit his passport with the Deputy Chief Registrar of the court and report at the EFCC office every fortnight to show that he has not left the country.