EFCC Grills Ex-FIRS Boss, Fowler

•Re-arraigns Suswam, Okolobia over alleged N3.1bn fraud

By Kingsley Nwezeh

Former Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler, was yesterday grilled by investigators at the Lagos office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

This is coming as the commission has re-arraigned a former Governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswam, alongside his former state Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Omodachi Okolobia, before Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court Abuja for fraud.

Spokesman of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said Fowler was at the EFCC office on the invitation of the commission.

He said the former FIRS boss was under investigation but could not provide details.

“The truth is that he came on the invitation of the commission.

“There is an ongoing investigation but we can’t go into details.

“He is in our Lagos office,” he said.

The EFCC also yesterday said it had re-arraigned Suswam, now Chairman of Senate Committee on Power, alongside Okolobia before Justice Mohammed for fraud.

Both were on trial on an amended 11-count charge bordering on theft, criminal breach of trust, illegal award of contracts and money laundering to the tune of N3.1 billion.

One of the charges reads: “That you Gabriel Torwua Suswam and Omodachi Okolobia, while being Benue State governor and Commissioner of Finance in Benue State respectively, between August 8 and October 30, 2014, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did procure Elixir Securities Limited and Elixir Investment Partners Limited to transfer an aggregate sum N3, 111,008,018.51 belonging to the Benue State Government to the account of Abubakar Umar (trading under the name and style of Fanffash Resources) who has no contractual relationship with Benue State Government, which sum you reasonably ought to have known to be the proceeds of unlawful activity to wit: theft and criminal breach of trust, and which sum forms part of the sum of N9,411,708,009.51k realised from the sales of shares owned by Benue State Government and Benue Investment and Properties Company Limited and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2)(b) and 18(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 as amended in 2012 and punishable under Section(15)(3) of the same Act.”

The duo pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Yesterday’s arraignment of the defendants followed the appeal court’s ruling that the trial of the defendants should be reverted back to Justice Mohammed’s court from that of Justice Okon Abang, whom the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court had reassigned the case to after the defendants alleged prejudice against them by Justice Mohammed.

With the return of the case to the first trial judge, prosecution counsel, Mr. Adewale Atolagbe, yesterday urged the court to direct all counsel on the matter to work with the court’s registry for the relisting of the exhibits that were already presented in the court before the transfer and for all exhibits not earlier presented to be withdrawn and returned to the prosecution.

In objecting to the application, Suswam’s counsel, Mr. Adedeji Adedayo, told the court that the appeal court directed that the case file be returned to court and not to the custody of the prosecution, adding that the sorting of the documents could be done by the registry of the court or exhibit keepers.

Also, Okolobia’s counsel, Mr. Audu Anuga, said it was not the business of the defence to help regularise issues pertaining to evidence the prosecution hopes to tender.

Justice Mohammed directed the court registry to go through the records and sought out the exhibits admitted by the court and to make sure that they are marked accordingly.

He adjourned the matter till December 15 for the continuation of trial.

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