N2.6bn fraud: ‘Fashion designer got N546m from NIMASA’

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The trial of an ex-Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi, and five others continued before a Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday with a bureau de change operator, Hussein Sabo, testifying against them.

The defendants are being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for allegedly converting to their personal use a total of N2,658,957, 666, belonging to NIMASA between December 23, 2013 and May 28, 2015. They were on December 4, 2015 arraigned on 22 counts in relation to the offence before Justice Ibrahim Buba. More after the cut…

The accused Akpobolokemi, Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Juan, Blockz and Stonz Limited and Al-Kenzo Logistic Limited however pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Sabo was the 3rd witness to be called by the EFCC, which opened its case on Monday to prove its allegations against the accused persons. Led in evidence by the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, Sabo, who spoke in pidgin English, told the court that one Muhammed Darlington approached him in March 2014 and told him that the 2nd defendant (Agaba) wanted to buy dollars.

The bureau de change operator said Dalington subsequently took his account number after which huge sums of money were paid into it in several tranches. For instance, Sabo claimed that he received four payment alerts on March 3, 2014 for the sums of N33.8m, N35m, 20m and 3m, which he helped the accused to change into US dollars.

He also claimed that between March and December 2014 he received six payments in the sums of N85,305,000, N155,300,000, N13,000,000, N10,000,000, and N84,000,000, which he also helped the accused to change into US dollars. Earlier, a fashion designer, Chukwuemeka Onuoha, who testified as the EFCC’s second witness, had told the court that the defendants used his company, Extreme Vertevex Limited, to siphon N546,802,000 from the coffers of NIMASA under the guise of a non-existent contract.

Onuoha told the court that though he neither tendered any proposal nor carried out any contract for NIMASA, N546,802,000 was paid by NIMASA into his account with Zenith Bank Plc. The witness claimed that the disbursement of the money was facilitated by the 3rd defendant (Nwakuche) who he knew when he was in secondary school. Onuoha narrated to the court how in 2003, shortly after the 3rd defendant secured an employment with NIMASA, he (Onuoha) approached the 3rd defendant and pleaded with him to consider him for any contract in the agency

He claimed that shortly after he made the request, the 3rd defendant called him on the telephone to enquire if he had any registered company that could be used for transactions as well as the company’s accounts. Onuoha told the court that not long after he supplied the details of his company and his bank account to the 3rd defendant, he received several alerts from his bank totaling N546,802,000.

For instance, he told the court that in August 2014 he received N21,802,000; on November 6, 2014, he received N318m; and on November 25, 2014 he received an alert for payment of the sum of N207m into his bank account. He added that when he enquired from the 3rd defendant what the money was meant for, he was told to wait for further instructions.

Onuoha told the court that he was later instructed to transfer the money to different accounts by the 3rd defendant. Under cross examination by Akpobolokemi’s lawyer, Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN), Onuoha, however, told the court he had never met Akpobolokemi or received any money from him. Justice Buba has adjourned further hearing in the matter till February 2,5, 16 and 19, 2016.