Lai Mohammed fails to testify as ICPC closes case in corruption trial of NBC boss

The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), on Tuesday, closed its case against the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Kawu.

This followed the commission’s failure to produce the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed.

He was to appear as a prosecution witness before the Federal High Court in Abuja.

Mr Mohammed was meant to explain his role in the alleged misapplication of the N2.5 billion funds for the federal government’s Digital Switch-Over (DSO) programme.

Mr Kawu is standing trial for alleged abuse of office and laundering of N2.5 billion.

The ICPC in February filed a 12-count charge before a judge, Folashade Ogunbanjo-Giwa, against Mr Kawu, Lucky Omoluwa, and Dipo Onifade, the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Communications Limited respectively, for allegedly misappropriating N2.5 billion.

Mr Mohammed had earlier told ICPC investigators that he was “deceived” into approving the project, according to the commission’s spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, implying the minister did not do due diligence before signing off on the project.

On October 21, Justice Ogunbanjo- Giwa had threatened to close the case against the defendants if the ICPC fails to produce Mr Mohammed and a subpoenaed bureau de change operator in court as witness on December 3.

Despite the ICPC failing to produce Mr Mohammed to testify in court, a statement he made to the agency, tendered in court, indicated that he gave the approval for the release of N2.5 billion to the NBC, as seed grant for the Digital Switch Over project of the federal government.

At the resumed hearing of the matter on Tuesday, the prosecution counsel, Henry Emoreh, informed the court that though the case was for continuation of trial, however, “we intend to close the case of the prosecution and we are not calling any more witnesses”.

Reacting to the sudden decision of the prosecution to close its case, Mr Kawu’s lawyer, Akeem Mustapha, said he would not be calling any witness.

Mr Mustapha said pursuant to section 303 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, he would be asking for the maximum 14 days to file the first defendant’s no-case-submission.

On his part, the lawyer to the second and third defendant, Alex Iziyon, said he would also not be calling any witness, and therefore requested for the maximum 14 days period allowed by ACJA to file a no-case-submission.

The fourth defendant’s lawyer, Amah Etuwewe, applied for the maximum 14 days to file a no-case-submission.

The prosecution lawyer told the court that he needed 21 days to reply to all the proposed applications for no-case-submissions of the defendants.

Similarly, the defendants informed the court that they would need 7 days to reply on points of law.

In a short ruling, Justice Ogunbanjo- Giwa noted that it would take 42 days for counsel to file and exchange processes in respect of the application for no-case-submissions.

The court adjourned the matter to January 30, 2020, for adoption.

Meanwhile, Justice Ogunbanjo-Giwa granted leave to Messrs Omoluwa and Onifade to travel abroad for an international conference.

The court ordered the registrar of the Federal High Court to release the international passports of the defendants to enable them to embark on the trip abroad.

Mrs Ogunbanjo-Giwa directed them to travel between December 16-18, and January 14-16, 2020.

She directed that one of the sureties of the defendants must depose to an affidavit that they will return to face their trial, or be made to stand trial should the defendants abscond.

The judge said the defendants’ passports must be returned to the court on January 24, 2020.

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