Court rejects witness statements tendered by EFCC

The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, rejected the extra-judicial statements tendered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as evidence in a money laundering suit filed against Malabu Oil and Gas Limited and seven others.

The judge, Inyang Ekwo, ruling at the end of a trial-within-trial conducted to test the voluntariness of the statements, held that “the law in Section 29 (2) (a) of the Evidence Act rejects a statement obtained by the oppression of the person who made it.”

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mr Ekwo held that the statements tendered by the EFCC’s prosecuting team were inadmissible, having been obtained under the atmosphere of “hostility, intimidating conduct and threats.”

He said the logic of the draftsman of the Evidence contained in Section 29 (5) of the law was that the word “oppression” can be expanded to include “torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the use of threat or violence whether or not amounting to torture.”

He said the voluntariness of a statement depended on the facts surrounding a given case.


FIRS

“Again, I have noted the judicial authorities cited and relied upon by both parties in this case.

“As much as judicial authorities provide precedents on the subject matter of the case generally, it is the facts and circumstances of the case at hand that will determine whether or not a statement which is the subject of trial-within-trial was made voluntarily,” he said.

According to him, there was an existence of mental stress or pressure on the 8th defendant (Aliyu Abubakar) owing to undue hostility, intimidating conduct and threats of the EFCC officials during the making of the statements on 16 and 17 January 2016, recorded by Bashir Abdullahi (PW-A).

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The judge also held that the statements of 31 December 2019 and 6 January 2020, recorded by Ahmed Audu, an EFCC operative, and the statements of 21 and 25 January 2020, recorded by Ahmed Yusu, another officer, were made by Abubakar involuntarily.

“I also find that the statements of 6 August 2015 and 30 November 2015 recorded by the 8th defendant were done in the presence of PW-A and five other operatives of the EFCC in one room with the 8th defendant,” he said.

According to him, any man facing such a number of investigators will panic within, even when smiling and chatting on the outside.

He said, “Such environment was capable of exerting mental pressure on the 8th defendant and in fact did, and I so hold.”

Mr Ekwo, therefore, held that the statements sought to be tendered were not obtained voluntarily.

“In fact, the evidence of PW-A, PW-B and PW-C were effectively demolished during cross-examination, to the extent that no iota of credibility can be found thereof,” he added.

Inadmissible

Consequently, the judge declared that the statements were inadmissible in evidence and must be rejected.

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“They are hereby rejected and to be so marked. This is the order of this court,” he declared.

The judge adjourned the matter until 6 to 8 November for trial continuation.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the EFCC had, in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/268/16, charged Malabu Oil and Gas Limited, A Group Construction Company Limited; Rocky Top Resources Limited; Megatech Engineering Limited; Novel Properties and Development Company Limited listed as 1st to 5th defendants respectively.

They also include Imperial Union Limited; Carlin International Nigeria Limited and the oil mogul, Aliyu Abubakar, listed as 6th to 8th defendants in the matter.

NAN reports that Mr Abubakar, a businessman, had alleged that in the course of his investigation by the EFCC, he made the extra-judicial statements under duress.


READ ALSO: Malabu Scam: Court adjourns Adoke’s trial over prosecutor’s absence


The development made the court to order a trial-within-trial in the suit to determine the voluntariness and admissibility of the statements.

Mr Ekwo had also on Monday rejected the extra-judicial statements made by Abubakar in another criminal charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/39/17 filed by EFCC against Mohammed Adoke, the former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, and Abubakar, who are 1st and 2nd defendants.

Malabu OPL 245 Saga

The cases stemmed from the OPL 245 deal involving about $1.1 billion by oil giants Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian petroleum minister, Dan Etete.

Mr Etete had initially been awarded the lucrative oil field to his Malabu Oil and Gas Limited while serving as the petroleum minister in the late Sani Abacha regime.

Years-long dispute over the ownership of OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks, led to a resolution by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to transfer it to ENI and Shell.

Investigators of the matter, which has featured in civil and criminal cases in courts of different foreign countries, alleged that Mr Etete fronted for top officials of the Jonathan administration in the controversial acquisition of the oil giants.

The Nigerian government did not benefit from the $1.1 billion payment.

Being the AGF who advised the Jonathan administration on the OPL 245 transactions at the time, Mr Adoke and other defendants were accused of wrongdoing.

The EFCC alleged that Mr Adoke accepted N300 million from Abubakar Aliyu, one of Mr Etete’s cronies, as a bribe in connection with the transaction in September 2013.

Mr Adoke has repeatedly denied the allegation. He has provided evidence to the court that the transaction between him and Mr Aliyu related to a botched property sale. He said he took a loan from Unity Bank to buy a property owned by the businessman. But after he was unable to raise a N200million equity to consummate the transaction, Mr Aliyu called off the sale, refunded Unity Bank the N300million deposit and sold the property to the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Shell and Eni, alongside their managers, were the main defendants in the case in Italy and have been acquitted. But Messrs Adoke, Etete and Abubakar have pending cases filed against them by the EFCC in Nigeria.

(NAN)


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