Alleged N2.5bn Fraud: Defendants Kick against Lai Mohammed’s Appearance in Court

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Lai Mohammed

Defendants in the case of alleged misapplication of N2.5 billion Federal Government Digital Switch-Over (DSO) programme, have countered application by the prosecution to present former Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, as a witness in court.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, is prosecuting the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Ishaq Kawu in a Federal High Court, Abuja, for alleged abuse of office and money laundering.

The Commission had filed a 12-count charge before Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo-Giwa, against Kawu, Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade, the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Communications Limited respectively.

In a motion filed before the court, Alex Izinyon, SAN, Counsel to Omoluwa and Onifade, opposed the list of the former minister and Shuaibu Sabo as additional witnesses in the trial as requested by the anti-graft body.

In the motion, the defendants are seeking the court order, “disallowing/prohibiting or forbidding the complainant/respondent to lead and use the additional list of witness of one Mr Lai Mohammed filed on 2nd June 2019 at the continuation of hearing of this criminal proceeding or any other date whatsoever.

“And for such further order(s) as this Honorable court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of this case”.

It will be recalled that the anti-graft body had said that the former Minister will serve as a prosecution witness in the alleged N2.5 billion fraud trial.

At the resumed hearing of the trial on Monday, ICPC lawyers, Henry Emore and E. A. Shogunle reminded the court of their application to call the two additional witnesses – Mohammed and Sabo.

Shogunle said that they had filed a counter affidavit to the motion by the defendants opposing their requests to call Mohammed and Sabo as additional witnesses.

On his part, Iziyon said the motion was not ripe for hearing because he would be filing a reply on point of law, to the prosecution’s counter affidavit.

Meanwhile Justice Oginbanjo-Giwa has reprimaded the ICPC for disobeying the order of court regarding the application by the defendants seeking release of their travelling passports.

The second and third defendants had filed the application seeking the release of their international passports to enable them travel abroad for official functions.

The judge who had fixed the application for ruling on Monday said the prosecution had failed to carry out her order to verify the addresses and other particulars of the defendants and their sureties. .

“I cannot give the ruling now because in the course of reviewing the motion, I realised that the prosecution has not carried out the order of the court to verify the addresses of the defendants and their sureties within five days.’’

Counsel to the prosecution said he had done the verification and satisfied with it after the grey areas observed were addressed by the defendants.

He, however apologised for his failure to file the report of the verification before the court.

The judge, who expressed displeasure over failure of the prosecution to file the report of the verification stood down the case for the lawyer to do so.

She stressed that she could not continue with the case while the prosecution was in disobedience of the court order.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the judge resumed the case about two hours after the prosecution had complied with the order.

Upon resumption, the defendants took fresh plea of not guilty to the amended charges brought to them by the prosecution.

The amended charges, according to ICPC lawyer were largely due to typographical errors which the lawyers to the defendants did not oppose to.

Justice Ogunbanjo-Giwa adjourned the case until July 4 to hear motions on the release of the defendants’ passports and that challenging the listing of Mohammed and Sabo as additional prosecution witnesses.(NAN)