Five Vatican employees, including the number two at its anti-money laundering authority, have been suspended following police raids linked to a financial wrongdoing probe, Italian media said Wednesday.
There was no immediate comment from Vatican authorities to the report which came the day after prosecutors seized documents and electronic devices from he offices of two key Vatican departments, the Secretariat of State and the FIA financial authority.
The L’Espresso magazine published a police circular dated Wednesday showing photographs and the positions of the five “suspended as a precaution”.
The circular said Vatican guards should no longer grant access to the five, except for healthcare purposes.
One of those suspended, secretariat head of information and documentation Mgr Mauro Carlino, will continue to be granted residence in the same hotel complex which is home to Pope Francis.
Also named was FIA director Tommaso Di Ruzza. The FIA is an independent anti-money laundering authority designed to lend transparency to operations by the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR) — which acts as the Vatican Bank.
The three others suspended hold administrative posts in the secretariat.
The Vatican had said Tuesday’s raids, authorised by prosecutor Gian Piero Milano and his deputy Alessandro Diddi, were “linked to the complaints presented at the beginning of last summer by the Institute for Works of Religion and the Office of the General Auditor, regarding financial transactions carried out over time.”
The Secretariat of State, the Catholic Church’s governing body, works closely with Pope Francis.
L’Espresso reported that the investigation was looking into “real estate operations abroad,” notably in London with the alleged participation of British companies.
The magazine said investigators were analysing transactions on bank accounts which receive sums of money donated to the Catholic Church.
The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), has warned against the stereotyping of all Nigerians, following the release of a list by the US authorities which indicted 80 persons, mostly Nigerians for various crimes including massive email fraud and money laundering.
According to a statement by the Chief Executive of the Commission, Mrs Dabiri-Erewa, the actions of a few Nigerians involved in criminal activities is not a representation of the majority.
It also said that an accusation does not necessarily mean guilt and that it expects that all the suspects will be given fair and speedy trial.
The 13-year-old trial of a former governor of Abia State and Senator representing Abia North Senatorial District, Orji Uzor Kalu, will resume at the Federal High Court Sitting in Lagos on Monday, July 22.
This is after President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, gave a fresh fiat to the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, to enable him to return to the court to conclude the case.
Justice Idris was elevated from the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal in June 2018. But he continued to hear the case after the President of the Court of Appeal initially granted a fiat for him to do so.
The fiat was granted at the instance of Kalu’s Lawyer, Professor Awa Kalu (SAN) who activated Section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, in order to prevent the case from being transferred to another judge to start afresh.
A copy of a Fresh Fiat has however stated that the trial will now commence on the 22nd of July and will continue from day to day until the trial is concluded.
Kalu is standing trial alongside his former Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogo, and a company, Slok Nigeria Limited, on an amended 39 count of money laundering to the tune of N7.6billion.
On July 31, 2018, Justice Idris dismissed the ‘no-case submissions’ made by Kalu and the other defendants and ordered them to open their defence.
But rather than open their defence, Kalu sought a six-week adjournment to embark on a trip to Germany to have surgery for an undisclosed ailment.
The defendants later challenged the jurisdiction of the judge to hear the case, arguing that he was no longer a judge of the high court.
They also filed an application seeking a stay of proceedings pending the outcome of their appeals. Justice Idris dismissed both.
When Kanu did not subsequently make himself available for his trial, Justice Idris revoked his bail.
The judge also ordered him to submit himself to the EFCC within 24 hours of his return to the country.
On January 23, 2019, when the case last came up in court, the prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), complained about Kalu’s repeated absence from court, alleging that the former governor, then a senator-elect, was taking the court for a ride. The counsel also noted that despite the court’s order, Kanu did not turn himself into the EFCC.
“He (Kalu) kept on campaigning for his senatorial ambition, slapping the court in the face; his attitude is unbecoming,” Jacobs said while urging Justice Idris to continue the hearing in Kalu’s absence.
But in response, Justice Idris said he could not proceed with the case as a second fiat given to him by the Appeal Court President had expired in November 2018.
Former Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose was on Friday re-arraigned before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
He is being arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 11 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust, theft and money laundering of N2.2bn against his firm, Spotless Limited.
At Friday’s proceedings, Fayose’s counsel, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), informed the court of an application seeking that the matter be returned to the former trial judge, Justice Olatoregun.
Meanwhile, the counsel for the second defendant, Olalekan Ojo (SAN), in his statement said the transfer of the case to another judge by the Chief Judge was a “rape on the rule of law”, adding that the defendants have been foisted with the situation of total helplessness.
The counsel for the EFCC informed the court that the arraignment of the ex-governor could not go on as he was being investigated in other matters.
Thereafter, Justice Aneke upheld the prayer of the EFCC and adjourned the case till July 2.
The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati has granted the request of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and re-assigned the trial of the immediate past governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose.
Before the transfer, the EFCC had called 13 out of the 15 witnesses it listed, in the trial, which started last year November at the Federal High Court, Lagos and has enjoyed accelerated hearing.
The trial will now commence afresh before Justice Chuwkujekwu Aneke following the transfer of the case from the courtroom of Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.
By a letter dated May 23, 2019, and addressed to Justice Olatoregun, Justice Abdu-Kafarati wrote;
“I refer to the petition of EFCC on this case and your Lordships comments thereto.
“It is apparent that the prosecution has lost confidence in the judge trying this case and justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done, I hereby transfer this case to Hon. Justice C. J. Aneke for hearing.”
The letter was copied to Justice Aneke, the acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, and the Deputy Chief Registrar, Litigation of the court, Ms. Clement Ende.
By a petition dated March 21, 2019, and signed by Magu, the EFCC had asked Justice Abdu-Kafarati to transfer the trial to another judge of the court.
Magu noted that EFCC was withdrawing its confidence in the trial judge, Justice Olatoregun after an altercation between her and the EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs in open court on the 20th of March, 2019.
On the said day, Justice Olatoregun was said to have engaged in unrestrained, unprovoked, and unwarranted vituperations against the prosecuting counsel which the petition says are indicative of the fact that she has an axe to grind with Mr Jacobs and the EFCC.
The petition said further that with this recent attitude, hostility and intimidation, the judge has confirmed the fears and doubts of the Civil Society Organisations and has made the commission agree with them that it cannot get justice on the case in her court.
The petition concluded by saying that, it is obvious that Justice Olatoregun cannot dispassionately and transparently try the case and the EFCC is constrained to state that it has lost confidence in her ability to do so. The EFCC, therefore, requests a transfer of the case to another judge of the court for trial
In his reaction to the EFCC’s move, Fayose’s counsel, Ola Olanipekun (SAN) had said the petition was misconceived, unsustainable and frivolous.
He described the petition as a subtle attempt to intimidate and stampede the court into doing what EFCC liked or wanted in disregard of provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 and the right of the first defendant, Fayose to expeditious hearing of his case, as well as the need to avoid wasting public funds and scarce judicial time on de-novo trial.
No party in a criminal case should be allowed to choose or determine the Judge to hear its or his case. Granting such a request for transfer will constitute a dangerous precedent, which will imperil the much-cherished independence of the judiciary as the bastion of the rule of law, he said.
Olanipekun argued further that the petition requesting transfer of the part-heard criminal case in which prosecution had already called 10 witnesses is legally misconceived having regard to provisions of Section 98(2) of the ACJA 2015 and the recent Court of Appeal decision in the case of F.R.N V. LAWAN (2018) LPELR-43973 (C-A).
Fayose is on trial for allegedly receiving and keeping N1.2billion and $5million allegedly stolen from the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) contrary to the Money Laundering Act.
He had pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on an 11-count charge last October 22.
The EFCC said Fayose and Biodun Agbele, who is facing a different charge, allegedly took possession of N1, 219,000, 000 on June 17, 2014, to fund the former governors 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
The commission said Fayose reasonably ought to have known that the money formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act, to wit: criminal breach of trust/stealing.
EFCC said Fayose, on the same day, received a cash payment of $5million from Obanikoro, without going through a financial institution, the sum having exceeded the amount authorised by law.
A former governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State, Mr. Dele Belgore who is standing trial before the Federal High Court, Lagos over an alleged N450 million money laundering charge, has told the court that he is innocent of the allegations.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Friday, he told Justice Rilwan Aikawa that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) knew the culprits of the offense.
While accusing the anti-graft agency of freeing them, he narrated to the court of how charges were filed against him despite claiming not to have benefitted from the said amount.
Belgore who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a former Minister of Planning, Professor Abubakar Sulaiman are standing trial before the court on a 9-count charge bordering on the alleged offence.
At today’s proceedings, Belgore who was the campaign coordinator of the re-election bid of former President Goodluck Jonathan in Kwara State concluded his testimony in defence of the allegation.
While being led in evidence by his lawyer, Ebun Sofinde (SAN), the first defendant told the court that in the statement he made at EFCC, he gave detailed information to the commission about who took possession of the sum and disbursed it.
According to him, he did not admit at any time either orally or In writing of being guilty of the offences.
“I denied all the 9-count charge made against me, I have never made any payment to all the names mentioned in the charge, and in order to assist the investigators, I gave them detailed information on who took possession of the fund how it was disbursed and used, I didn’t benefit from the funds,” he said.
Belgore had also told the court that the N450 million which was set aside as campaign fund for Jonathan’s re-election in 2015 was from series of fund-raising activities done by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
While rejecting claims that the money was from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, he denied having dealings with dealings or knowledge that the money came from her.
He also described as untrue, claims by the EFCC investigators that the money was part of a larger sum of N23bn allegedly collected by Mrs Diezani from three oil marketers: Northern Belt Ltd, Actus Integrated Ltd, Midwestern Company and one, Mr Leno Laitan, ahead of the 2015 general elections.
In his ruling, Justice Rilwan Aikawa adjourned till May 6, for the cross-examination of the first defendant.
Meanwhile, the court has granted permission to the second defendant to travel to Mecca for lesser Hajj, (Humurah).
In granting the leave to travel out of the jurisdiction, the court ordered him to provide a surety who must be a civil servant and must reside in Lagos or a landed property owner in the state.
The court then ordered the second defendant to return to the country before May 6.
A Lebanese contractor, Maroun Mechleb, has owned up to giving false information to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) about the ownership of a property linked to former Governor Ayodele Fayose.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Wednesday, he claimed to have given the false information on the instruction of Abiodun Agbele, one of the aides to the former governor.
The contractor said he had claimed ownership of the property in order to help Agbele, whom he described as a friend.
The Lebanese was testifying as the 10th prosecution witness in the trial of Ayo Fayose on allegations of receiving and keeping N1.2billion and $5million allegedly stolen from the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) contrary to the Money Laundering Act.
On Tuesday, the former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro concluded his testimony as the 5th Prosecution witness.
A banker, Mr Olugboyega Falae then testified as the 6th prosecution witnesses.
He told the court about the transactions leading to the acquisition of some properties allegedly linked to the former Governor.
On Wednesday, the EFCC called four additional witnesses in proof of its case against Fmr Gov. Fayose.
Among the four witnesses were three Lebanese – Goshen Joseph; Joseph Mechleb and Maroun Mechleb – who are working in Nigeria as building and construction engineers.
Of particular interest is the testimony of Maroun Mechleb, who identified himself as the Chief Executive Officer of a construction firm, Samchase Nigeria Limited, which is based in Akure, the Ondo State capital.
While being led in evidence by the EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), Mechleb told the court that he had done various jobs for both the Federal Government and some states, including Ekiti State.
He said he did jobs for Ekiti State in 2006, 2014, 2015 and 2016 when Fayose was governor of the state.
Mechleb told the court that the jobs he did for Ekiti State were facilitated by Abiodun Agbele – an aide to Fayose.
He said there was an agreement that he would “appreciate” Agbele for every contract he facilitated for Samchase Nigeria Limited.
Mechleb said though the “appreciation” was not specified, it was usually about 10 per cent of the contract sum.
The Lebanese, who told the court that he could neither write nor read English language, said the scope of the contracts was usually communicated verbally, saying, “We agreed that when he got jobs for me, I will appreciate him.
“We did not specify but it’s around 10 per cent.”
He said he gave Agbele N132.5million on one occasion as “appreciation” for an unspecified contract he facilitated.
In one of the counts of the charge, the EFCC had alleged that Fayose acquired chalets 3 and 4, 6 and 9 on Plot 100 Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island, Lagos in the name of JJ Technical Services Ltd with N1,151,711,573.
Mechleb told the court that he and his Lebanese brothers, who testified earlier, also ran J.J Technical Services.
The witness said he once lied to the EFCC about owning a property based on Agbele’s instructions in a bid to help “a friend”.
He said, “Mr Agbele asked for a company we can use to get a job. I gave the name (J.J. Technical Services) to Abiodun Agbele to help get a job for the company.
“Mr Agbele bought a property and put it in the company’s name. He gave me the documents of the property to sign. I cannot read English properly, but I just signed the documents,” Mechleb said.
“It was later that I got to know that the documents were about a property and I had to contact Mr Agbele.”
“At the beginning, I didn’t know it was document of a property but I later got to know when the EFCC invited me and I had to contact Mr Abiodun Agbele,” Mechleb said.
The Lebanese said Agbele instructed him to tell the EFCC that he owned the property, an instruction which the Lebanese said he followed while dictating his statement to the EFCC on July 28, 2016.
He said when he left the interrogation room, he told his lawyer who was with him that what he told the EFCC was not the truth, rather what Agbele instructed him to tell the anti-graft agency.
Mechleb said his lawyer was angry with him and told him to go back and tell the anti-graft agency the truth.
He said he went back immediately and dictated a second statement in which he denied ownership of the property in question.
During cross-examination, the second defence counsel, Mr Olalekan Ojo (SAN), asked Mechleb, “As an adult, will you tell a lie, if you are told to lie?”
Responding, the Lebanese said, “In the first statement, I didn’t say the truth because of the relationship between me and the person (Agbele).”
“I was trying to help a friend. I lied to help a friend at the time. But when the lawyer asked me, I went back to say the truth based on my conscience.”
Earlier, Goshen Joseph and Joseph Mechleb, who testified as prosecution witness 8 & 9, respectively, had denied knowledge of the property bought in the name of their company.
The 7th Prosecution Witness, Mr. Kennedy Osunwa, a Lawyer also earlier testified that he was engaged to prepare a Deed of Assignment with respect to a property in Lagos allegedly acquired by Agbele & JJ Technical.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun has adjourned further proceedings till April 15.
The trial of Dr. Doyin Okupe, a former aide to ex-presidentGoodluck Jonathan, who was arraigned on 59 counts of money laundering continued on Friday at a Federal High Court In Abuja.
At the resumed trial, the prosecution witness, Mr. Hassan Seidu, an operative of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) told the court how Dr Okupe received payments from the office of the National Security Adviser, retired Col. Dasuki Sambo, for special services.
The witness also told the court how a company, Value Trust Investment Limited, was used to siphon money from the office of the NSA without executing any job for the Federal Government.
Mr. Seidu, who is the third prosecution witness in the trial of Dr. Okupe informed the court that Dr Okupe failed to justify the payments made to him and Value Trust Investment Limited.
He recounted how the accused was unable to account for the funds received even when he claimed to have paid staff salaries from the money.
The counsel to Dr. Okupe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Joe-kyari Gadzama, however, insisted that the testimony of the witness was merely a fairy tale, just as the counsel to Value Trust Investment Limited, Tolu Babaleye, dismissed the testimony.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor, Ibrahim Audu, claimed that he had enough documentary evidence to prove the case against the former presidential aide beyond reasonable doubt.
With the conclusion of the testimony of the third witness, the court adjourned further trial to April 1, 2019, for cross-examination of the witness.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Dele Belgore, who is standing trial for allegedly laundering N450m has denied ever meeting or dealing with the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke.
At the continuation of his trial at the Federal High Court Sitting in Lagos on Tuesday, Mr. Belgore said he was not aware that the N450m he signed for in 2015 came from her whereas he was made to believe that the money was from the Campaign Organisation.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting Belgore, alongside a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, for allegedly laundering the N450m in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
The anti-graft agency claimed that the N450m was part of a larger sum of $115.01m, which the former Petroleum Minister, allegedly doled out to influence the outcome of the 2015 general elections.
In the nine counts, the EFCC accused them of making cash payment of N10m to Kwara State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr. Emmanuel Onucheyo.
The commission said they also paid N10m to a Commissioner of Police, Garba Saliu, on March 27, 2015, without going through a financial institution.
The sums, the commission said, exceeded the amount authorized by law and violated Sections 1(a) and 16 (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act of 2012 and punishable under Section 16 (2) (b).
According to the EFCC, the defendants “directly took possession of the sum of N450m,” which they “reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of unlawful act.”
Both Belgore and Suleiman have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The court also watched two separate video clips from a bank CCTV camera recordings.
The video clips were tendered as evidence by Belgore to prove that he did not leave the bank with the money even though he signed for it.
The first clip lasted for about 55 minutes, while the second one lasted for one and half hours.
At the end of proceedings, Justice Rilwan Aikawa adjourned continuation of trial till March 27.
A former governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State, Mr Mohammed Dele Belgore (SAN), has opened his defense at the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on allegations of laundering the sum of N450 million.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Monday, the Senior Advocate who took the witness box in his own defense admitted that he was invited to the bank to collect the cash but said he ended up leaving the bank without the money.
Belgore who also said he was the Kwara State Coordinator of then President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election campaign, said he did not collect the N450m because after getting to the bank he realized that the money was too huge for his Toyota Prado jeep.
“I indicated to PW1 (bank manager) that I could not collect the money and I gave two reasons. First, I said this money was coming two days before the election; all the stakeholders and party members were aware of the arrival of the money and therefore, I did not consider it safe to move such a huge amount of money out of the bank in the middle of the night,” he said.
“The second reason was that I did not come prepared to receive and take away such a large amount of money, as I came only in my vehicle, a Toyota Prado jeep.
“As I said earlier, the heap of cash that I saw in the bank’s loading bay was at least three to four feet high. So, I told PW1 that if it took a bullion van to transport the cash from the Central Bank of Nigeria to Fidelity Bank, there was no way I would be able to evacuate those funds with my Toyota Prado.”
Mr Belgore said after a long argument between him, his co-defendant, Prof Abubakar Sulaiman and the bank manager, the bank manager told them to sign for the money and agreed to keep the money in the bank’s vault.
“After signing the document, I left the bank without the money. I did not take a penny out of the bank; I left the bank empty-handed,” he said.
Thereafter, his counsel, Mr Ebun Sofunde, asked the court for more time to enable him preview the CCTV footage of the events that took place in the banking hall on March 26, 2015, when the offense was allegedly committed.
The judge, Justice Rilwan Aikawa, then granted the plea and adjourned the case till February 28, 2019.
Belgore is being prosecuted by the EFCC for allegedly benefiting N450m from the sum of $115m which a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, allegedly doled out to influence the outcome of the 2015 general elections.
The EFCC had alleged that himself, and his co-defendant, a former Minister of National Planning, Prof Abubakar Sulaiman, went to a branch of Fidelity Bank in Ilorin on March 26, 2015, to sign for and collect the N450m cash.
The anti-graft agency said they ought to have “reasonably known” that the N450m was part of proceeds of unlawful activities, adding that they handled the money without going through any financial institution, contrary to the provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
But the SAN and the professor have pleaded not guilty to the allegations
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has alleged that a sum of N1.5 billion from the imprest account of the Ministry of External Affairs with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), was used to fund the political campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.
An investigator with the EFCC, Shuaibu Shehu, told the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Monday that two former ministers and some others, had transferred the sum to the former president.
Shehu is the third prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of former Minister of Finance, Mrs Nenadi Usman, former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, Danjuma Yusuf and a company, Joint Trust Dimensions Nigeria Limited on allegations of laundering N4.6bn.
He told Justice Rilwan Aikawa that he became familiar with the charge against the defendants in February 2016, when a petition over the alleged fraudulent transfer from the ministry’s account was assigned to his team to investigate.
Mr Shehu said the EFCC’s investigation linked the former minister, Mrs Nenadi Usman and the third defendant Danjuma Yusuf to the account of Joint Trust Dimensions Ltd, where the money was allegedly transferred to.
The witness added that further investigations also revealed that the funds were then moved from the company’s account to fund former President Jonathan’s political campaign in 2015.
He listed beneficiaries of the funds to include Ms Jumoke Akinjide and Achike Udenwa.
The testimony of the witness was, however, cut short, when the defence team raised objections to his narration on details of how the funds in the company’s account were disbursed by the defendants.
The defendants through their lawyers argued that the issue of disbursement of funds was not part of the charge preferred against them and the witness could not give evidence on same.
They, therefore, asked the court to expunge evidence given on the issue.
Thereafter, Justice Aikawa, fixed February 20 and 21 to rule on the objection raised by the defence team.
On the next adjourned date, the court will also hear an application filed by Mrs Nenadi Usman, seeking permission to go away to take care of her health.
The defendants are being arraigned on 17 charges of alleged N4.6 billion fraud.
They have, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In counts one to seven, they were alleged to have unlawfully retained over N3.8bn which they reasonably ought to have known, formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act of stealing and corruption.
In counts eight to 14, the accused were alleged to have unlawfully used over N970 million which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of an unlawful act of corruption.
Meanwhile, in counts 15 to17, Fani-Kayode and one Olubode Oke who is said to be at large, were alleged to have made cash payments of about N30 million, in excess of the amount allowed by law, without going through a financial institution.
Fani-Kayode was also alleged to have made payments to one Paste Poster Co (PPC) of No 125 Lewis St., Lagos.
All offences were said to have contravened the provisions of sections 15 (3) (4), 16 (2) (b), and 16 (5) of the Money laundering (prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.