The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday called two out of the 18 witnesses it lined up against the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, with respect to the charges of money laundering involving the sum of N400m which he allegedly collected from the Office of the National Security Adviser in November 2014.
The trial commenced before a Federal High Court in Abuja after the presiding judge, Justice Okon Abang, overruled a request for an adjournment by Metuh’s lead counsel, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), who had sought time to enable him and his team to have access to some documents and prepare better for the defence.
The ruling by Justice Abang, dismissing the request for adjournment, paved the way for the prosecution to call its first witness, Nneka Ararume, an employee of Asset and Resource Management Company Limited, who narrated how Metuh gave her $2m cash at his house in Prince and Princess Estate, Abuja.
Ararume, who described her position at ARM as Wealth Manager, said she collected the cash from Metuh on December 2, 2014, with an instruction to invest the money on behalf of the PDP spokesperson’s company, Destra Investments Limited.
She said ARM had been managing Destra’s funds before she joined the financial services company in April, 2013.
Before the trial commenced on Monday, Ikpeazu had informed the court that his client had “laboured” unsuccessfully to meet the bail conditions imposed by the court on January 19, and had applied for the variation of the terms.
The court ruled that the application could not be heard on Monday since it was only served on the prosecution in the open court on Monday morning.
Ikpeazu asked for an adjournment of the case on the grounds that he was only served in court with the prosecution’s additional proof of evidence containing the statement of the EFCC witness who investigated the case.
Citing the rights to fair hearing which an accused person was entitled to under Section 36 of the Constitution, he added that he needed time to meet with Metuh, whom he said was assumed would have been able to fulfil the bail conditions by Monday.
Ikpeazu stated that the defence needed time to get some documents, including the statement of account of the PDP spokesperson.
The lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, opposed the application for an adjournment, insisting that the accused had been given enough time to prepare for his defence since he had been served with the charges and other necessary documents since January 14.
The judge agreed with the prosecution but ruled that the prosecution must not call on Monday the witness whose statement was only served on the defence in court.
When the trial commenced, Ararume, who said she managed Destra Investments Limited’s funds with ARM, explained that she proceeded to change the $2m, which she collected from Metuh, to its naira equivalent through two bureau de change operators.
Ararume, who was led in evidence by Tahir, said on December 2, 2014, which was about 11 days after N400m was allegedly paid into Destra’s Diamond Bank account by the Office of the NSA on November 22, 2014, Metuh invited her to his home at Prince and Princess Estate in Abuja, asking her to come along with her companies brochure on different types of investments available.
She said, “Metuh gave me the sum of $2m in $100 bills. It was taken to bureau de change operators, who would then transfer the money to ARM. From there (Metuh’s house), I proceeded to Mr. Sie Iyenome’s office at Wuse 2, where I gave him the sum of $1m.
“I also invited Mr. Kabir Mohammed and I also gave him the sum of $1m to transfer the naira equivalent in favour of Destra Investment Limited.
“Later on the same day, December 2, 2014, Mr. Kabir and Mr. Sie Iyenome confirmed the receipt.”
The defence also sought an adjournment after Ararume completed her testimony.
But Justice Abang upheld the prosecution’s objection to the request for an adjournment, which was basically anchored on the same grounds earlier canvassed by the defence.
Under cross-examination by the defence counsel, Ararume said Destra, owned by Metuh, had been ARM’s client before she was employed by the financial services company in April 2013.
The witness answered negative when asked if she knew “how long it took the defendants to accumulate the money he gave you”.
The EFCC also called Iyenome, one of the bureau de change operators engaged by Ararume to change $1m out of the total $2m she received from Metuh to naira.
Iyenome said he never knew Metuh but only got to know of his company, Destra, on December 2, 2014, when Ararume forwarded the company’s account details to him for the payment of the naira equivalent of $1m he received from her.
Under cross-examination, the witness, who said he believed he was carrying out “a valid transaction”, also told the court that it was the practice in the foreign exchange business to ask for the purposes which funds, brought by customers, were meant for.
He said, “Most times the question for the purpose the money is meant is done verbally, just for due diligence.
“This was a brokering transaction. I’m not the one using the dollar. Even at that, I asked who was selling and Nneka said it was her client at ARM, which was as good as a bank was selling to you.”
Under re-examination by the prosecutor, Iyenome confirmed that there was a limit imposed by law as to how much cash a bureau de change operator could transact with.
He said, “I am aware of some, I can’t name all of them. I’m aware that to sell to an individual travelling outside the country, the limit is $4,000, and for a business, the limit is $5,000.”
Justice Abang adjourned further trial till Tuesday with an instruction to the prosecution that all the prosecution witnesses must be present in court.
He fixed Wednesday for the hearing of Metuh’s bail variation application.
Meanwhile, the National Legal Adviser of the PDP, Mr. Victor Kwon, said the party had nothing to do with the bail conditions set for Metuh, the party’s spokesman.
Kwom explained that friends, colleagues and associates of Metuh had intensified efforts to get sureties required by the court and secure Metuh’s release from prison.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Monday, Kwom said, “The party has nothing to do with the bail, because we were not asked to come and stand as surety for him.
“Like I said, his friends, associates, colleagues and family members are looking for sureties that will meet the bail conditions.
The EFCC is prosecuting Metuh and Destra Investments Limited on seven counts of money laundering and fraudulent receipt of N400m from the Office of the NSA on November 22, 2014, for the PDP’s campaign activities.
The prosecution alleged that the N400m was “part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity” of the immediate past NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd).
In counts one and two, the EFCC alleged that Metuh and Destra Investments Limited “took possession” of the sum of N400m from the account of the Office of the NSA with the Central Bank of Nigeria without contract award and converted the money.
The prosecution also alleged in count four that sometime between November, 2014 and March, 2015, Metuh and the firm used the said N400m for the campaign activities of the PDP and other purposes while “having reason to know that the money directly represented proceeds of an unlawful activity of Colonel Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (retd).” (Punch)