The trial of suspected fraudster Ismaila Mustapha, also known as Mompha, has commenced with three witnesses testifying against him at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Mompha is facing 14 counts bordering on fraud, money laundering and running a foreign exchange business without the authorisation of the Central Bank of Nigeria (EFCC).
He was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday alongside a firm, Ismalob Global Investment Limited.
The EFCC accused Mompha of procuring Ismalob Global Investment Limited and retaining in its bank account an aggregate of N32.9 billion between 2015 and 2018.
At the opening of the trial on Friday, a compliance officer with Fidelity Bank, Peter Adegoke, who testified as the second prosecution witness, told Justice Mohammed Liman that Ismalob Global Investment Limited has a bank account domiciled in the bank.
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Adegoke said Mompha was the sole signatory to the naira account.
Reading from the firm’s statement of account, Adegoke, who was led in evidence by the EFCC lawyer, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, told the court that between 2015 and October 2019, there was a total inflow of N18.5 billion into the account while a total of about N18 billion moved out within the same period.
He added that the account had a balance of N598,000.
Under cross-examination by the defence counsel, Mr Gboyega Oyewole, Adegoke affirmed that his bank would not involve itself in anything unlawful.
Asked whether the bank at any time reported transactions in the firm’s account as being suspicious, Adegoke said, “Yes, we reported to the NFIU (Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit).”
The witness was also asked what the NFIU’s response was and the responded, “They (NFIU) don’t need to respond to us.”
When asked if there was any sanction following the report to the NFIU, Adegoke said he would not know.
When Oyewole insisted that as a compliance officer, who is responsible for the freezing of bank accounts at the requests of anti-graft agency, he should know if there was a sanction, Adegoke explained that Fidelity Bank has a desk that handles reports to the NFIU, adding “I can’t say I know about all sanctions.”
Earlier, an official of the CBN, Mrs Anne Ezekannagha, who testified as the first prosecution witness, told the court that the apex bank has no record of licensing Ismalob Global Investment Limited as a Bureau de Change operator.
She said for the CBN to licence a firm as a Bureau de Change (BDC) operator, such a firm must show evidence of incorporation as a limited liability company by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Ezekannagha explained that all licensed BDCs have a transaction limit of $5,000.
When the defence counsel, Oyewole asked her whether it was unlawful for an individual who has foreign currency in his domiciliary account to give foreign currency to a friend in exchange for naira, the CBN official said it would not be unlawful if it was not a commercial transaction.
According to her, it becomes a commercial transaction if it involves making a profit and it would be illegal.
A Benin City-based BDC operator, Ikenna Okafor, who testified as the third prosecution witness, told the court that he did business with Ismalob Global Investment Limited through “one of its directors, Alhaji Ahmadu Mohammed.”
Okafor said Mohammed used to come to his base in the Edo State capital to buy Euro in the name of Ismalob Global Investment Limited.
“After negotiation with Ismalob Global Investment Limited through Alhaji Mohammed, he usually makes payment into my account through Ismalob,” he said.
Under cross-examination by Oyewole, Okafor said he met Mompha for the first time three days ago at the EFCC office in Ikoyi.
The BDC operator said he was detained for seven days by the EFCC before being released on an administrative bail during the week.
After listening to the testimonies of the witnesses, Justice Liman adjourned further proceedings until January 8, 2020.
Meanwhile, the judge admitted Mompha to bail in the sum of N100 million with one surety who must be a landed property owner.
The defendant was ordered to deposit his passport with the Deputy Chief Registrar of the court and report at the EFCC office every fortnight to show that he has not left the country.