The trial of sacked Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) officials and their collaborators in the alleged eight billion Naira fraud continued June 3 with the arraignment of another set of eight accused persons at the Federal High Court, Ibadan, by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). The accused persons who are standing trial before Justice Adeyinka Faji are facing 28-count charges bordering on forgery, misrepresentation and self-enrichment. According to the EFCC, the accused ex-CBN staff conspired with the First Bank employees to recycle N10 billion mutilated currency notes meant to be destroyed.
The accused, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Those arraigned were three ex-CBN employees, namely Kolawole Babalola, Olaniran Adeola and Togun Kayode Phillips. Others were Isiaq Akao, Ayodele Festus Adeyemi, Oyebamiji Hakeem, Ayodeji Alase and Ajiwe Adegokewere of the First Bank of Nigeria.
The court was told that the accused persons have acquired assets in Nigeria and Pretoria, South Africa allegedly by stealing N1.25billion supposed mutilated currencies meant to be destroyed and taken out of circulation.
Mr Rotimi Jacobs, prosecution counsel, said that instead of carrying out the statutory instruction to destroy the defaced currency notes as their duty demands, the accused substituted the currency with newspapers neatly cut to naira sizes and proceeded to recycle the mutilated and defaced currency.
The offence, as contained in a charge sheet read out to the accused persons is punishable under section 7(2) of the Bank Employees etc.(Declaration of Assets) Act, CAP. B1, Laws of the Federal Republic, Nigeria 2004.
However, a mild drama took place when Aleshe, a cashier, claimed to be an illiterate and could not communicate in English language. The drama lasted for about 15 minutes until the judge ordered that an interpreter should be sought to read the charge to him in Yoruba language. The EFCC told the trial judge that Alashe, a primary six certificate holder, started work at First Bank as a guard before he was promoted to the position of a cash assistant.
The lead prosecution counsel for the EFCC also told the court that the accused had property worth hundreds of millions of naira. Alashe, according to the anti-graft agency, has a duplex at Oluyole Estate in Ibadan, a shopping complex, a warehouse at Podo, a fenced plot at Dugbe, a block of four flats at Apeye, two plots of land and five-bedroom flat in other parts of the state capital. Aleshe was alleged to have N132 million in his bank account.
The court ordered that the accused be remanded at the Agodi Prison in Ibadan and adjourned the matter till June 8 to hear the bail applications.
Chief Olayinka Bolanle, the defence counsel to the first accused person, Babalola, made an oral bail application on behalf of his client.
The judge opposed the oral application and said he preferred a written application for bail. He said in view of the gravity of the offence, oral bail application would not be accepted.
He ruled that in view of the volume of evidence before him, it would be impossible for him to entertain oral bail applications from six different defence counsels.
The judge ordered the defence counsel to file their bail applications before the close of court business for the day and serve the prosecutor who in turn should respond by June 5.
The anti-graft agency had on Tuesday also arraigned six CBN officials and three employees of two commercial banks on similar charges before Justice Ayo Emmanuel of the Federal High Court, Ibadan. The two commercial banks are Sterling Bank and Eco Bank.
By Dike Onwuamaeze