The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has said that a key witness in the trial of Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Aviation Minister, is on the run.
At the resumed trial of Mr. Fani-Kayode at the Federal High Court, Lagos, Tuesday, the commission told the judge that Mark Ndifreke, who had been billed to appear as a prosecution witness, has been at large since 2008.Mr. Fani-Kayode is facing a 40-count charge of money laundering amounting to about N100 million.
Festus Keyamo, counsel to the EFCC, told the judge that the prosecution would be forced to apply for a bench warrant to arrest Mr. Ndifreke.
Mr. Ndifreke, a former aide of the ex-minister, had deposited various amounts of money running into tens of millions of naira into Mr. Fani-Kayode’s bank account, according to the EFCC.
“This is to show that the witness summons that was issued by this court, that we attempted severally to serve the witness summons at the residence of one Mark Saviour Ndifreke whose name features in so many of the counts,” said Mr. Keyamo.
“This investigation has been on since 2007 and this witness has been a prime witness we have been looking for all along and he has been running from pillar to post,” Mr. Keyamo added.
At the last sitting last month, the judge declared a prosecution witness who was testifying that day “hostile.”
The judge’s declaration came after Ojo Agbor, the fifth prosecution witness, said that he made his statement to the EFCC under duress, after he was tortured and detained for one week by the operatives.
“The statement he made to the commission is totally different from what he is saying in court,” a furious Mr. Keyamo had said.
Drama In Court
On Tuesday, Shuaibu Umar, another prosecution witness, lashed back at a defence counsel, during cross-examination, angering the judge and forcing the court to adjourn for five minutes.
Mr. Umar, an EFCC investigator, while giving evidence told the court that he was among the team that investigated Mr. Fani-Kayode in 2008.
“I was given the bank statements of the account of Mr. Fani-Kayode to analyze. In the course of that analysis, I discovered lodgements were made by various individuals into the account,” said Mr. Umar.
Mr. Umar said that he can only remember “vividly” two people who made the lodgements – Mr. Ndifreke and Mr. Agbor.
“When we discovered that he (Mr. Agbor) was one of those that made frequent lodgements into the account, we decided to invite him through his office, the National Gallery of Arts.
“He came on his own. I showed him the bank statement where he made those lodgements and asked him if he can make explanations regarding those lodgements. He responded that he will like to make statement to explain the lodgements,” Mr. Umar added.
The witness denied Mr. Agbor’s claims that he was lured to the EFCC office by a woman, beaten up, thrown into a van, prevented from speaking to his family and nursing wife, and coerced to write a statement.
Despite Ifedayo Adedipe, the defence counsel’s objection that Mr. Agbor’s statement was irrelevant since he was not the one on trial, the judge admitted it into evidence.
Under cross-examination, Mr. Umar stated that Mr. Agbor visited the EFCC’s office once, on December 29, 2008, to tender his statement before him.
But Mr. Adedipe noted that the said statement began with ‘In addition to my earlier statement of 26th December 2008….’
“That tells you he had made another statement before your operatives,” said Mr. Adedipe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“I cannot admit that. This is what I did and that’s what I know,” said Mr. Umar.
The defence counsel told Mr. Umar that he had come to tell lies to the court.
“I put it to you that….”
Mr. Umar cut the lawyer off in mid-speech and retorted: “I put it to you too that….”
Mr. Keyamo sprang up and began to offer a profuse apology to the judge.
“My lord, he doesn’t know the ethics of the court.”
Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, the trial judge, adjourned for five minutes and warned the prosecution counsel to caution his witness.
“If the witness makes another slip, there will be fire in the court, even if heavens fall,” said an angry Ms. Ofili-Ajumogobia.
When the sitting resumed, Mr. Keyamo requested for time to bring Mr. Ndifreke to give evidence, after which the prosecution would close its case.
The judge adjourned till July 10 for continuation of trial.
Mr. Fani-Kayode was first arraigned in December 2008 before Justice Ramat Mohammed on a 47-count charge. He had pleaded not guilty and granted bail in the sum of N200 million with two sureties in like sum.
The former minister was re-arraigned before Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako, following the transfer of Ms. Mohammed from Lagos.
The accused was again re-arraigned before Ms. Ajumogobia on February 11, 2013, after the transfer of Ms. Murtala-Nyako.
He was still re-arraigned before Ms. Ajumogobia on March 6, following the amendment of the 47-count charge to 40-counts by the EFCC.
In the charge, the accused was alleged to have carried out transactions with funds exceeding N500,000 without going through a financial institution.
The accused was also alleged to have accepted cash payments to the tune of about N100 million, while he was the Minister of Aviation and Minister of Culture and Tourism.
The offence is said to contravened the provisions of Sections 15(1) (a) (b) (c) (d) and 15 (2) (a) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.
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