How Former governor Joshua Dariye Embezzled Plateau ‘s N1.126b Ecological Fund-Witness
- Gave Atiku’s Firm N100m
About nine years after he was charged before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, former Plateau State Governor Joshua Dariye’s trial for alleged money laundering opened yesterday.
The prosecution called its first witness, who told the court how Dariye allegedly diverted the state’s N1.126billion ecological funds. Dariye is being tried before Justice Adebukola Banjoko.
The witness, Musa Sunday (a detective with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission –EFCC), who was led in evidence by the lead prosecution lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), said he was involved in the investigation into how Dariye as governor allegedly diverted Plateau State’s funds.
He told the court how Dariye allegedly applied for the ecological fund in the name of his state in 2001, but collected the money in person and diverted it.
Sunday said upon receiving the cheque for the N1.126b ecological fund, Dariye allegedly lodged it with his private banker, the Abuja branch manager of All States Trust Bank Plc (now defunct), with instruction on how it should be disbursed.
The witness said investigation by EFCC operatives revealed that the bank manager, allegedly acting on Dariye’s instruction, paid N100m in the name of “PDP South-west” which fund was later traced to a company – Marine Float Nigeria Limited – allegedly owned by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. He said efforts to make Atiku refund the money failed.
Sunday said Dariye instructed the payment of N178.8m to an unregistered company – Ebenezer Retnan Venture Limited, which was later discovered to belong to the ex-governor.
He said Dariye ordered the payment of N80m from the ecological fund to Kingsley Nkumeh, a Permanent Secretary in the Ecological Fund Office.
The witness said although the EFCC later recovered the N80m from Nkumeh, he ran out of the country on learning that he was to be prosecuted, and has since not returned.
Sunday also said Dariye paid N250m to a firm – Pinacle Communications – owned by a contractor to the state government.
He told the court that the decision to investigate Dariye was informed by a request by the London Metropolitan Police for Nigeria’s assistance in investigating some parties and companies linked with the former governor.
Dariye, who is representing Plateau Central was dressed in a brown kaftan. He looked unruffled as the witness spoke. When the proceeding was briefly suspended owing to power outage, Dariye smiled broadly as he went around shaking hands with some of his supporters who besieged the court.
When the proceeding resumed, Sunday said: “Based on the request, we moved to the mentioned banks. We first went to All States Trust Bank, Abuja, where we met with the branch manager, who made available to us information about the account of Ebenezer Retnan Ventures limited.
“From the mandate form of the account, we found that the signatory to the account was Haruna Dariye. The signature to the account was by the defendant (Dariye). The Account Officer, Awe Obesa, who marketed the account to the defendant, told us this.
“He was arrested to confirm to us who Haruna Dariye was. He could not identify who Haruna Dariye was and we found that the circumstance surrounding the opening of the account was suspicious. We also found that there was no picture in the mandate card.
“When we went further in our investigation, we confirmed, through Obesa that a waiver was given to the defendant not to use photograph. That led us to recover the mandate card from the bank and other account opening documents.
“The mandate card and account opening documents were obtained for further investigation – to ascertain who the signatory was. We sent the documents to the forensic unit, which confirmed that the signature belonged to the defendant.
“After realising that it was the bank that gave waiver for the defendant not to use photograph in his mandate card, the banker –Obesa – and his bank – All States Trust Bank – and one other were charged before Federal High Court, Kaduna.The bank and banker were convicted by the court.
“In the course of our investigation in the bank, through the statements of account given to us on the Ebenezer Retnan Venture’s account, we saw a lot of financial in-flows of money from Plateau State Government account. Such in-flows include an amount of money coming from the Ecological Fund.
“We approached the All State Trust Bank manager. She availed us with a handwritten document, where the defendant split about N1.162billion. We recovered a photocopy of the document from her.
“On interview about where the money came from, because the money was not from Platuea State Government, she (the bank manager) then made available to us a Central Bank of Nigeria cheque covering the said amount of about N1.126b.
“The CBN cheque and hand written disbursement were recovered and additional type-written disbursement letter by the defendant to the bank’s branch manager was recovered.
“When we recovered those documents and cheques from CBN, we traced it to where it came from. Investigation led us to the Ecological Fund Unit under the Presidency. At the Ecological Fund Unit, we interviewed one Mr. Adewusi, who told us that there was a time the Plateau State Government applied for Ecological Fund for ecological problem in the state, and approval was given for N1.126b.
“And that before the cheque was prepared, a payment voucher covering the said amount, which has other documents attached to it, were prepared and audited, at the end of which payment was made.
“When the cheque was ready for collection, the defendant and his orderly, one Inspector Victor, went to the Ecological Fund office and, upon instruction by the defendant, the aide signed for the cheque and the defendant took the cheque to All States Trust Bank, Abuja.
“Investigation revealed that in the office of the bank manager, the defendant instructed how the money should be disbursed to some individuals and companies. The bank’s branch manager complied with the defendant’s instruction.
“Instead of the money to be paid into any of the Plateau State Government accounts, the bank used their own bank accounts to clear the cheque and disbursed to individuals and companies instructed by the defendant.
Copies of his instructions, both type written and hand written, were made available to us during investigation.
“We invited Pinacle Communications; the representative of the company. He actually confirmed collecting the N250m, but told us he is a contractor of the Plateau State government.
“We found that the N500m actually went to the state government. The N80 paid to Union Homes turned out to have been paid to a Perm Secretary, Ecological Funds Office, Kingsley Nkumeh.
“When interviewed, he said that was his share for facilitating the payment of the Ecological Fund to the state. The said amount was recovered by the EFCC from the Permanent Secretary, Minister of Ecological Funds.
“Charges were later prepared for him to be charged to court in Lagos. He was granted administrative bail. He resigned and left the country. Our investigation at Union Homes revealed that the cheque was cleared into an account owned by the Perm Secretary, Nkumeh.
“The bank gave us the mandate card of the Permanent Secretary, whose account the N80m was paid into. The N176 million was traced to Ebenezer Retnan Venture’s account domiciled at All States Trust Bank. From investigation at CAC, we found it was not registered. There was no record of the company’s existence.
“The N100m paid to PDP Southwest was traced to Marine Float Limited and, in the course of our investigation, revealed that Marine Float Nigeria Limited. The mandate we received from the bank showed that Marine Float is owned by a former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Effort to recover this money has been going on. We did not succeed in recovering it,” Sunday said.
He is expected to resume his testimony today at 10am.
The EFCC, in 2007, obtained the leave of an FCT High Court to prefer charges against Dariye and filed a 23-count charge against him. He was also accused of diverting the state’s funds estimated at billions of naira while in office.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge, following which the trial judge, Justice Banjoko, fixed November 13, 2007 for the commencement of his trial.
Before that date, however, Dariye filed an application, challenging the competence of the charge and the jurisdiction of the court. He argued that he ought to be tried at a Plateau State High Court and not the FCT High Court.
On December 13, 2007, the trial judge dismissed Dariye’s application for lacking in merit, a decision he appealed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja and subsequently to the Supreme Court. The apex court, on February 27, 2015, dismissed Dariye’s appeal and ordered him to submit himself for trial.