Alleged N544m scam: Court fixes June 9 to rule in admissibility of evidence against ex-SGF, 5 others

An FCT on Wednesday fixed June 9 to rule in admissibility of evidence in the suit filed against a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and five others.

The former SGF is facing trial alongside his younger brother, Hamidu, a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited for alleged N544 million grass-cutting contract scam suit.

Others charged are an employee of the company, Suleiman Abubakar; Managing Director of Josmon Technologies Limited, Apeh Monday, Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd.

The Judge, Justice Charles Agbaza adjourned the matter for ruling as a result of argument by defendants’ counsel on the admissibility of documents tendered by the prosecution witness, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The witness, Fatima Umar ( PW3), a deputy head of Digital Forensic Laboratory with the EFCC, who was led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Offen Uket said part of her job function was to identify, observe, collect and analyse data based on proven technical methodology.

Umar further said that she also served as expert witness who gave data generated through automated processes to investigators to aid and serve as first responder to locate potential storage in crime scene.

In addition, she said that she had been a Digital Forensic expert for seven years that was qualified and certified to be able to give evidence and write reports.

According to the Forensic expert, she was in court because she received a request letter to carry out a digital examination on an IPhone 7.

The prosecutor, Uket thereafter proceeded to ask some questions bordering on who sent the request letter, who the phone belonged to, the condition of the phone when she received it, to how she went about retrieving and extracting data from the said phone.

Umar explained the processes involved in retrieving the data, as manual, digital and physical extractions.

She also said the investigator, Ibrahim Salihu gave her key words to search for like SGF, Abia, Abdullahi and some other words.

” In the process of my search, I came across a contact saved as SGF”.

According to Umar, the particular nature of data extracted from the phone were messages between the owner of the phone, Musa Bulani and the said contact saved as SGF.

She equally said the data were extracted from the phone, analysed, burnt into a compact disk ( CD), printed into a hard copy using an HP printer and a report was written.

Uket at this point led her to mention the documents she wanted to tender in evidence as, the request letter, burnt CD, print out ( hard copy) and the EFCC’s r forensic report.

Akin Olujimi , the first defendant’s counsel, told the court that he was not objecting to the admissibility of the request letter dated March 8,:2018.

Olujimi however, urged the court to reject the remaining three documents.

He said the witness extracted the information from the phone which meant the extracted print out was not the original source, rather the phone which was not before the court.

He added that the extraction was a public document as it was extracted by the witness in the cause of performing her official duty as a forensic analyst.

He therefore said that as a secondary evidence which was permissible to be tendered in evidence, it ought to have been signed as a certified True Copy ( CTC).

The counsel further argued that the extraction which was a computer generated document by section 84 of the Evidence Act (2011), should have fulfilled the four conditions as stipulated by the section.

He said one of the conditions was that the document ought to have been accompanied by a certificate. Olujimi in addition said another way the document would have be permissible would have been through oral evidence.

” We recall that when this witness testified, she never claimed to have had any connection with that phone beyond when it was sent to her to analyse”.

He concluded by urging the court to reject the documents tendered by prosecution as evidence.

John Itodo, counsel for the second defendant, Napoleon Idenala, counsel for the third defendant, Ocholi Okutepa, counsel for the fourth and sixth defendant, M. E Oru, counsel for the fifth defendant all aligned themselves to Olujimi’s submission and adopted it as their arguments.

The judge, thereafter adjourned adjourned the matter until June 9, to rule in the admissibility of the documents.

The News Agency of ( NAN), reports that the defendants were first arraigned before Justice Jude Okeke of the FCT , Maitama, Abuja on Feb. 13, 2019, however the case had to be transferred to Justice Agbaza following Okeke’s death.

This development led to the re-arraignment of the defendants on Nov. 30,2020,on 10 amended counts charge bordering on fraud, criminal conspiracy diversion of over N544 million and diversion of over N544m belonging to the Federal Government.

The EFCC alleged that the defendants committed the offence when Lawal was the SGF.

The anti-graft Agency alleged that he allegedly awarded contracts to these companies in which he had interests in.(NAN)

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