The trial of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, representing Delta North Senatorial District at a Federal High Court, Lagos was stalled on Thursday following the rejection of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s third witness from Zenith Bank Plc by the defence team led by Chief George Uwechue (SAN), because the witness name and statement were not attached in the proof of evidence submitted to parties.
The court, sitting before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke reserved bench ruling on the issue till March 19, 2019, three days after the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 16.
The prosecution lawyer, Mr. A.O.R Ogunde (SAN) at the commencement of the proceedings yesterday told the court that he was ready to go ahead to call his third witness. The defence team led by Uwechue (SAN), and a former chairman of the Body of Benchers, appearing with G.A.I Mowa for the first defendant, Nwaoboshi and Charles Nmarkwe and Onyebuchi Aniakor for the second and third defendants respectively, that is, the companies charged along with Nwaoboshi, did not oppose Ogunde’s proposal.
Immediately the witness mounted the box and administered with the oath and announced his name as Eyituoyo Mogbeyitan from Zenith Bank, Mr Mowa, the second counsel for the first defendant, raised an objection that the witness name is not among the others listed in the proof of evidence
and that there is no statement made by him before the EFCC, and therefore should not be allowed to testify in the instant case.
“The name of the witness is not listed in the proof of evidence and no statement of the witness in the processes filed by the prosecution.
“My submission on point of law is the golden rule which affords the defendants a fair hearing and not to ambush them. This is an ambush”.
Consequently, Mowa urged the court to disallow the witness.
In his own submission, the second defendant’s counsel, Nmarkwe aligned himself with Mowa and held that the witness before the court should not be allowed to give evidence.
Also contributing to the argument, the third defendant’s lawyer, Onyebuchi Aniakor told the court he supported the submissions of the counsel to first and second defendants but added, that “our submission is that this is not a proper witness in this proceeding”.
Responding, the prosecution counsel, Ogunde said that the witness is giving evidence as a representative of Zenith Bank, arguing that the bank can send any of its staff to represent it and not necessarily a particular person.
“It is the bank that is giving evidence. I do not know of any law that says a representative of any bank is bound to make a statement before giving or tendering evidence in court. “Such is not bound by law” Ogunde argued.
“I submit that there is nothing in law, no compelling enactment or rule of your lordship that says that the witness cannot testify because he did not make any statement in the instant case. “There is nothing in law that says he must go to EFCC and make a statement before he can testify in this case.
“I therefore urge my lord to allow the witness before the court”. Ogunde concluded.
After the arguments by counsel to the parties, Justice Aneke adjourned the case to March 19, 20 and 21 for ruling and continuation of trial.
Nwaoboshi was charged by the EFCC, along with two companies – Golden Touch Construction Projects Ltd and Suiming Electricals, for alleged N322 million money laundering.
The commission had re-arraigned the accused before Justice Aneke, on October 5, 2018 following the elevatio of the previous trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, to the Court of Appeal.
He had pleaded not guilty on his arraignment before Idris, and also, pleaded not guilty to the charges on his re-arraignment before Justice Aneke.
Following his re-arraignment, the case started de novo (afresh).
It would be recalled the prosecution had alleged that Nwaoboshi and Golden Touch Construction Projects, purchased a 12-storey building property, known as Guinea House, on Marine Road in Apapa, Lagos for N805million between May and June 2014.
The anti-graft agency claimed that N322million out of the N805million was part of proceeds of “an unlawful act of fraud.
The EFCC alleged that the N322million was transferred to the property’s vendor, on the order of Suiming Electricals, which was accused of aiding the accused to commit money laundering on or about May 14, 2014.
The alleged offences contravened the provisions of sections 15(2)(d) and 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.