January 13, 2022

Alleged N544m grass-cutting fraud: Why Babachir Lawal wasn’t reported to security agencies — Witness

By Fortune Eromosele

Abuja—A witness of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Chidi Eboigbe, yesterday told a high court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT that former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal, was not reported to law enforcement agents because there was nowhere in the statement of  the bank account of the company, Rholavision Limited, that showed that the ex-SGF carried out any transaction for the firm.

Rholavision Engineering Company was said to have been engaged for the clearing of evasive plant species on Yobe Rivers by the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE, which led to the filing of criminal charges against Babachir Lawal and others by EFCC.

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The witness, who is a Compliance Officer with the bank, told the court that Babachir Lawal, from the record of the bank, had ceased to be a director and signatory to the company’s account on October 28, 2015.

He informed the court that documents received by his bank indicated that the former SGF was removed as a director and signatory to the company’s account shortly after his appointment as SGF.

Cross-examined by Akin Olujimi, SAN, counsel to Babachir Lawal, the EFCC witness admitted that the sum of N269.864m was in the account of Rholavision between January 1, 2007 and May 4,2012.

The witness further told the court that the bank had a duty and obligation to report any suspicious transactions to law enforcement agents as required by law but that in the transactions of Rholavision with the bank, there was nothing like criminal activities, hence the bank did not report anything to the authorities.

He specifically stated that there was nowhere in the statement of account of Rholavision with the bank that showed that the former SGF carried out any transaction for the company.

Rholavision Engineering Limited is one of the five other defendants, alongside Lawal, standing trial in the ongoing N544 million alleged contract infringements.

Under further cross-examination by Marcel Oru, SAN, counsel to Rholavision company, the witness told trial Justice Charles Agbaza that he became aware of Babachir Lawal’s appointment as SGF in 2015.

He said several payments were made into Rholavision’s account with the bank by individuals and corporate bodies but noted that he did not know the purpose of the payments.

Eboigbe further admitted that he never managed the accounts of the engineering firm but was only familiar with it as to the level of customer of the bank as a compliance officer.

“I am aware that several payments were made into the company’s account and these include N15.3million deposit made on December 30, 2009, and another N10.6million deposited into the account on January 4,2010.

“However, I do not know the purpose of the payments.  In March 2016, other limited companies also made payments into account of Rholavision Engineering Limited, which is the fifth defendant,” he said.

After the witness was discharged from the witness box, Justice Charles Agbaza, adjourned further hearing in the case to January 13, 2022.

Babachir Lawal, alongside his younger brother, Hamidu Lawal; Suleiman Abubakar; Apeh Monday and two companies, Rholavision Engineering Limited and Josmon Technologies Limited, are being prosecuted by EFCC before Justice Charles Agbaza of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Jabi, Abuja.

They are facing a 10-count fraud charge relating to removal of evasive plant species to the tune of N544 million for which they pleaded not guilty.