A Federal High Court in Lagos monday ordered a trial-within-trial to test the voluntariness of statements obtained from a former acting Director General of NIMASA, Haruna Jauro, facing N304.1 million fraud charges.
The trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, gave a brief ruling ordering a trial-within-trial, when counsel representing the accused, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, raised objection to the tendering of his client’s statement on the grounds that it was not made voluntarily.
Jauro, who assumed leadership of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), after an erstwhile Director General of the agency, Patrick Apkobolokemi, who is also being prosecuted alongside others over multi-billion naira fraud, is charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He is standing trial alongside Dauda Bawa and Thlumbau Enterprises Limited on 19 counts bordering on the offences.
They were arraigned on April 12, 2016 and had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The court had admitted them to bail in the sum of N5 million each with two sureties each in like sum.
When the case was mentioned today, the prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo called on the first prosecution witness, Mr. Orji Chukwuma, an investigating officer with the EFCC.
Leading his witness in evidence, Oyedepo had showed him exhibit G, H and I and asked the witness to identify the various exhibits.
The witness told the court that exhibit G represented a request for the transfer of the sum of N176 million to seven beneficiaries, which said document was signed by one Captain Ezekiel Agaba, who is also facing charges of fraud before a brother judge.
He said investigations revealed that the seven beneficiaries of the sum totalling N176 million were either Executive Directors, Board members, or Directors in NIMASA.
He further stated that out of the said sum, the second accused benefited the sum of N20 million through his bank account.
According to the witness, before the commencement of investigations, the first accused had pleaded and returned his own part of the money.
Chukwuma also identified exhibit H to represent an internal Memo of NIMASA indicating that the funds are to be transferred for immediate intelligence gathering.
He said on July 10, 2014 investigations revealed that the account of Thumbau Enterprises Ltd, a company linked to the first and second accused received a sum of N20 million from the committee on intelligence gathering.
He said the said sum was never used for the proposed intelligence gathering but rather merged with other proceeds of crime and transferred to one Helen Mbonu.
The witness also told the court that exhibit “I” represents a request for the transfer of the sum of N15 million also to Thumbau Enteprises Ltd.
He said that investigations revealed that about N12 million from the sum was used to pay a part loan from Aso savings and loans plc, while the balance was merged with other crime proceeds to purchase a house for the first accused in Lekki.
At this point the prosecution then sought to tender the statement of the first accused in court, but his move was met with objection from counsel to the first accused (Ojo) who argued that the statement of his client was not voluntarily obtained by the EFCC.
Ojo opined that the accused person’s statement was obtained by consequences of inducement by the commission, adding that same cannot be tendered and admitted in court.
He referred the court to section 29 of the Evidence Act which he said captured the entire vitiating circumstances of such statements and urged the court to order a trial-within-trial to test the admissibility of such statement.
Consequently, Justice Olatoregun ruled in favour of a trial-within-trial, and adjourned the case to February 21, March 3, 13 and 14, for continuation.
The judge added that counsel must be prepared to proceed on that date.
The EFCC accused Jauro and others of conspiring among themselves to defraud NIMASA to the tune of N304.1m between January 2014 and September 2015.
The anti-graft agency alleged that the accused converted the sums to their private use, an offence which it said contravened the provisions of section 15(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012