Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Nigeria: Former Minister, Lai Mohammed To Appear As Prosecution Witness in N2.5bn Fraud

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Former Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, is said to appear before a Federal High Court in Abuja over an alleged N2.5 billion Digital Switch-Over (DSO) fraud case involving the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

The Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), who is currently prosecuting the NBC director-general, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, for “abuse of office and money laundering” revealed that Lai Mohammed will need to explain the part he played in the Digital Switch-Over programme fraud.

Kawu is being arraigned alongside Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade, the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Communications Limited respectively.

However, contrary to popular belief, the spokesperson of ICPC, Rasheedat Okoduwa has said that Lai Mohammed is not being arraigned for trial. Rather, he’ll appear in court as a prosecution witness. She said: “The ex-minister will appear as a prosecution witness, we are not arraigning him for trial.”

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According to The Nation, Okoduwa’s statement read: “The former Minister’s involvement had come under questioning following discovery by ICPC during investigations, that a government White Paper that governs the execution of the DSO programme was allegedly flouted by the head of NBC.”

“Mohammed had however admitted in a statement to the Commission that he was misled by Kawu, as opined in court by a witness from ICPC, Osanato Olugbemi.

Olugbemi, led in evidence by counsel to ICPC, Henry Emore, told the court that the payment of N2.5 billion from NBC to Pinnacle Communications Limited, as seed grant was suspicious because ICPC found out through its investigations that only government owned company was approved to benefit from the grant according to the White Paper.”

“The court also heard that the processes that led to the final payment of the fund to the private company were shrouded in secrecy as revealed by the minute from an NBC emergency board management meeting where issues of carriage fees owed Pinnacle and not seed grant was discussed.”

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“He told the court that 47 suspicious transactions were originated by the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications, Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade, the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Communications Limited., immediately after the receipt of the funds on June 2, 2017.”

“The transactions include  payments of N363 million to one Idowu Olatunde, N274.4 million to one James Segun and N127 million to Dipo Onifade, the Chief Operating Officer of the company.”

“He informed the court that Omoluwa refused to explained the reasons for the payments to Olatunde and James when asked by ICPC, but Onifade explained that he received the N127 million as legal fees he rendered to Pinnacle Communications Limited.”

“A Bureau de Change operator, Salisu Mamman Daura, who also testified in court, said he received N167 million in two installment of N97 million and N70 million respectively, from Pinnacle Communications Limited.”

“Daura added that the sums were converted into $265, 000 and $195, 735 respectively, at the rate of N360 to an American dollar, and handed in cash to one Alhaji Sabo, supposedly on behalf of Pinnacle Communications.”

“Lai Mohammed had however admitted in a statement to the Commission that he was misled by Kawu, as opined in court by a witness from ICPC, Osanato Olugbemi.”

The case has been adjourned to 1st of July, 2019 for continuation of trial.

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