Alleged N359m fraud: Witness admits to transferring money

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A prosecution witness, Okunrinboye Titus, on Tuesday, alleged that he transferred various sums of money to some beneficiaries without formal documentation to back the payments.

Titus made this known while giving his evidence-in-chief in the ongoing trial of former Minister, Taminu Turaki, before Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

Turaki, the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs between 2013 and 2015, is charged with alleged laundering of N854 million.

He also served as the supervising Minister of Labour from 2014 to 2015 in President Jonathan-led administration, and as chairman, Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution.

NAN reports that the EFCC had, on May 4, arraigned the former minister alongside his former Special Assistant, Sampson Okpetu, and two firms; Samtee Essentials Limited and Pasco Investment Limited, on 16 counts of money laundering.

The anti-graft agency alleged that the defendants used the companies to launder funds totaling about N845 million stolen from the two ministries where the minister held sway under the then administration.

However, Turaki and Okpetu pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Titus, while responding to questions from the EFCC Lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, alleged that the money was part of the fund budgeted for the sensitisation programme by former President Goodluck Jonathan to launder the image of the government.

Titus, who was the Head of Central Pay Office at the then Ministry of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs when Turaki was the minister, said the ministry operated a Zenith Bank Account at the Federal Secretariat Branch, Abuja, for recurrent expenditure and another Zenith Bank Account at Maitama Branch.

Titus, while responding to Abubakar’s questions, told the court how he gave Okpetu the sum of N50 million cash in a bank.

He said since there was no A.I letter nor a formal documentation to back the payment, he insisted that the schedule must be signed.

“Up till now, there is no A.I. and no formal documentation,” he said.

He explained that the money was part of the fund budgeted for the sensitisation programme by the then administration and that he ensured that Okpetu acknowledged receiving the money.

The PW6 said on Jan. 23, 2015, the sum of N5 million was transfered to Okpetu and on Jan. 28, 2015, N9 million and N20 million were also transfered to him at different occasions.

He also gave other lists of beneficiaries of the money.

According to the witness, the sum of N45 million was transfered to Abdullahi Bagudu.

He also told the court that the sum of N50 million was transfered to Community and Youth Development on Jan. 29, 2015.

Titus, who presently works at the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, further admitted that N50 million was paid to Community and Youth Development in three tranches making a total of N150 million.

While being cross-examined by Joe Gadzama, SAN, who was Counsel to Turaki, the PW6 admitted making six statements at the EFCC office.

Titus, though denied refunding over N200 million to the anti-graft agency, he admitted refunding N20 million to EFCC from the money he benefitted.

He also admitted ownership of Pinnacle Energy Ltd., the company, whose bank account was used to moved part of the money.

Besides Pinnacle Energy Ltd, the witness admitted having three other companies.

“You are a civil servant and equally a businessman? Tell the court,” Gadzama asked Titus.

The witness, who did not object to Gadzama’s question, admitted that such act was against the practice of his profession and civil service code.

When asked if he was facing any charge regarding the refund of the N20 million, the EFCC witness said: “It depends on the EFCC and it is an ongoing thing.”

He, however, said he had not been charged to any court by the anti-graft agency.

Titus, who disclosed that he had no fewer than seven bank accounts, said N535 million had so far been forfeited to the anti-corruption agency.

The witness did not object to the lawyer’s question that he said in his statements that he owned the house at EFAB Estate in Abuja and that he got the money from the illicit fund he made from the then Ministry of Special Duties.

Besides this, Titus was alleged to have bought a Camry Car worth about N4 million.

He told the court that he did not pay any money into the former minister’s account since he did not report directly to him.

He, however, denied the allegation by Gadzama that when he received an invitation from the EFCC, he was told that he was not the target.

“You got an invitation from the EFCC via a telephone and you complied.

“The EFCC told you that you were not the target and that you would only assist to ensure that the 1st defendant is prosecuted, nailed and jailed,” Gadzama asked Titus.

Also during a cross-examination by Counsel to 2nd defendant, A.A. Ajibade, SAN, Titus said though he did not participate in the sensitisation programme, part of the N359 million was paid into his account.

“The money you paid to Sampson Okpetu came from your personal account and that was why you made him write an acknowledgement for the receipt of the money,” Ajibade asked Titus.

“Yes,” he responded.

Justice Ekwo adjourned the matter until Nov. 11 for continuation of cross-examination of the PW6.

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