By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Wednesday, told the Federal High Court in Abuja that its key witness in the ongoing trial of former governor of Benue State, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, has turned hostile and recanted evidence he earlier gave against the defendant.
The witness, Mr. Abubakar Umar, who is a Bureau De Change operator, had previously narrated before trial Justice Ahmed Mohammed, how he helped the former governor to convert the sum of N3.111 billion into dollars between August and October 2014.
Umar, who is the fourth principal witness, PW-4, said he converted the money which he said amounted to $15.8 million, and took same to Suswam at the government house in Benue.
In an Evidence-In-Chief he gave through a Hausa interpreter, the PW-4, told the court that Suswam requested for the account number of his company -Fanffash Resources- through which he wired funds from the Benue state treasury on six separate occasions.
He told the court that though he started buying and selling of currency since 1990, he opened his own company in 2014 with Suswam as one of his major clients.
“I know the 1st defendant. In 2014, he brought so many businesses to me involving the change of money. In August 2014, I was in my office when i was called by the former governor. He asked me to meet him in his house at Maitama in Abuja.
“He called me with his number 08180505050 through my own line 08062666661. When I got to his house, the governor said I should give my account number to one fair lady. He told me that they will deposit money into the account. I was asked to use the money that will be deposited inside the account to buy and US dollars and bring it to government house.
“It was the former governor that gave me the instruction. The first amount that was paid into the account was N413m. He asked me to convert the money to dollars. The money was paid on August 8, 2014.
“When I converted the money I took it to the government house. I remember that I made a statement to the EFCC. Money was transferred into my account six times. On September 12, 2014, two payments were made into my account. The first one was N363m and then N637m. The payments amounted to N1billion.
“I was asked to convert the money into dollars by the former governor. On October 14, 2014, N630m was paid into my account. After two hours, N818m was also paid into my account. I converted them to dollars and sent to the governor.
“On October 17, 2014, N1.68bn was paid into my account. The total amount paid into my account was N3.111bn. as at that time, dollar rate was N197. In total, I took $15.8m to the government house in Benue State,” the witness added.
He, however, told the court that Suswam did not personally collect the money from him each of the times he went to the government house.
Meanwhile, at the resumed sitting on the matter on Wednesday, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, urged the court to declare Umar as a hostile witness.
Jacobs stressed that Umar’s testimony before the court was contradictory to evidence he gave in an extra-judicial statement he made before the EFCC.
The EFCC lawyer told the court that the witness had in the said statement, claimed that he personally delivered the dollar equivalent of the N3.1billion to Suswam at his Abuja residence in Maitama.
Placing relaince on sections 230 and 231 of the Evidence Act, Jacobs said: “My lord, the prosecution is enjoined by law before taking further step in this matter, to apply to declare the witness as hostile to enable him to be cross-examined to explain the reason why he departed from his extra-judicial statement”.
However, though Suswam’s lead counsel, Mr. J.B. Daudu, SAN, did not oppose EFCC’s bid to declare the witness s hostile, he however insisted the the prosecution could only cross-examine Umar based on his evidence before the court.
Daudu contended that EFCC was at liberty to contradict the witness with another evidence aside his extra-judicial statement.
After he had listened to all the parties, Justice Mohammed adjourned the matter till December 11 for ruling.
Suswam who piloted the affairs of Benue State from 2007 to 2015, is answering to a nine-count money laundering charge alongside his erstwhile Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Omodachi Okolobia.
EFCC alleged that the duo looted about N3.1billion, being proceeds of shares owned by the Benue State government and Benue Investment and Property Company Ltd.
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