A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja today quashed a 41-count charge of money laundering and advance fee fraud preferred against an American firm, Intermarkets USA, its Managing Director, Mr. Alexander John Cozma, and four staffers of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
In a two-hour ruling, Justice Adamu Bello held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) could not sustain any of the 41 charges of wrongdoing levelled against all the accused persons.
EFCC had in May 2009 arraigned Intermarkets USA, Intermarkets Nig. Ltd., Cozma, Molkat Manasseh Muftwang, Michael Aule and Prof. Bridget Sokan of, among other things, defrauding the federal government of N850 million.
In his ruling, however, the trial judge held that EFCC relied on witnesses who leant more on hear-say that on the facts on ground. The judge noted that all the evidence supplied by EFCC and its witnesses in all the 41 charges crumbled when confronted with documents under cross examination.
He said the matter appeared designed to teach Intermarkets, its Managing Director, and the affected UBEC staffers “a lesson” for having the “audacity to sue UBEC.”
Justice Bello expressed surprise that EFCC chose to produce the immediate past UBEC Executive Secretary, Dr. Ahmed Modibbo Mohammed, as its principal witness, but conveniently left out his successor, Prof. Gidado Tahir.
He held that since the contracts were sealed under Prof. Tahir, the right thing was for investigators (EFCC) to invite same as their witness to “resolve all the knotty issues” surrounding the award of the contract.
Even at that, held the trial judge, Dr. Modibbo’s oral testimonies were inconsistent and contradicted all the documents tendered in the nearly five-year trial.
He cited the instance where Dr. Modibbo and another EFCC witness, one Mrs Bridget Onekutu, jointly claimed that the contract for the manufacture and supply of plastic tables and chairs for pupils was sealed in November 2005, when documents proved it actually started in April 2004.
The judge also pointed out where Modibbo and Onekutu jointly claimed in their testimonies that the UBEC Resident Due Process Team approved the award of the N850 million contract, but that documents proved that the Commission’s board did the approval.
Justice Bello equally expressed surprise that EFCC failed to question one Mr.
Femi Oye, a resident consultant with the World Bank, who authored the advertisement for the plastic tables and chairs, but kept insisting that the advert was forged.
He faulted the testimony of Dr. Modibbo that Intermarkets blackmailed UBEC to award it the contract, saying all the documents tendered in the course of the trial showed that a painstaking process was followed by the board of UBEC and Intermarkets before the contract award.
If there was anybody to question, said Justice Bello, it should be the UBEC board that approved and awarded the contract to Intermarkets, including the 85 percent mobilisation fee paid.
Reacting to the judgement, EFCC counsel, Mr. Wahab Shittu expressed satisfaction with the ruling. Shittu thanked Justice Bello, saying he had “no option than to salute the erudition of the learned trial judge.”
Messrs Segun Jolawo, Innocent Dagba and Caleb Mutfwang, counsels to Intermarkets and the UBEC staffers respectively thanked the trial judge for what they described as a “painstaking ruling” which they expressed the hope will “stand the test of time.”