Alleged Fraud: Judge’s Absence Stalls Trial of Former SGF Lawal, 5 Others

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By Alex Enumah in Abuja

The trial of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, in a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was on Wednesday stalled following the absence of the trial judge, Justice Jude Okeke.

Justice Okeke, according to a court registrar, took ill and was unable to attend the day’s proceedings.

Following the development, counsel in the matter agreed on November 5 for the next sitting which was originally slated for ruling on the admissibility of a document tendered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The ruling was slated for October 16, at the last sitting in September.

The former SGF and his brother, Hamidu Lawal, a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited; an employee of the company, Sulaiman Abubakar, and the Managing Director of Josmon Technologies Limited, Apeh Monday, are being prosecuted by the EFCC on a 10-count charge of conspiracy and fraud.

Also charged with them are two companies, Rholavision Engineering Limited and Josmon Technologies Limited.

EFCC accused Babachir Lawal of illegally benefiting from the approval of N544,119,925.36 for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation.

The anti-graft agency alleged that Lawal being the SGF and Hamidu Lawal, director of Rholavision Engineering Limited, and Abubakar, staff about March 7, 2016 at Abuja conspired to commit the offences.

It alleged that the defendants fraudulently acquired a property, contrary to Section 26 (1) (c) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.

It also alleged that the former SGF knowingly held indirectly a private interest in the consultancy contract awarded to Rholavision Engineering Limited for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N7m and N6.4m

EFCC claimed that it was done through the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE).

It further alleged that on March 4 and Aug. 22, 2016 contract for removing evasive grass worth N272.5m and N258.1m respectively were awarded to Josmon Technologies Limited but was executed by Rholavision.

The offences, according to EFCC, were contrary to Section 12 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.

The six defendants, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge preferred against them.

At the sitting on Sept 18, the anti-graft agency had sought to tender a document in support of the testimony of its second prosecution witness (PW2), Mrs Fatima Umar, an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC ) Officer and Head, Forensic Unit.

But the defendants objected to the admissibility of the document thereby forcing counsel to the prosecution, Mr Ufon Uket, to seek for a short adjournment to enable him respond to the objections.

Uket’s request was granted and the matter adjourned to Wednesday October 16.