By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA— A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory at Maitama has admitted into evidence a statement that implicated chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, in a N10 million bribery scandal.
Trial Justice Chizoba Orji admitted the statement which was volunteered to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, by Personal Assistant to the CCT boss, Mr. Ali Gambo Abdullahi.
Abdullahi had in the statement dated August 12, 2013, admitted to the EFCC that Justice Umar used his bank account to receive N1.8 million from a retired Comptroller of Customs, Mr. Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, who is standing trial before the CCT over alleged false declaration of assets.
The revelation followed Owolabi’s allegation that Justice Umar was demanding N10 million from him to influence the outcome of the charge which was entered against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
Owolabi told EFCC that he had in furtherance to the arrangement, paid N1.8 million to the tribunal chairman through his P.A, Abdullahi, via a bank.
Meanwhile, shortly after his first statement, Abdullahi, on September 9, 2013, recanted his earlier testimony, insisting that Owolabi gave him the N1.8 million to settle his father’s medical bills.
After investigations, the EFCC under the leadership of its ex-chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, sent its report on Justice Umar to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation for further action, even as it charged his P.A, Abdullahi, to court.
Though the agency reportedly recommended Umar for prosecution in its earlier report, it, however, in two separate letters, the commission under its current leadership, cleared the CCT boss of involvement in the bribery scandal.
The agency said it was not able to establish a prima-facie case against Umar to warrant his prosecution alongside his P. A, Abdullahi.
The EFCC clearance came at a time pressure mounted for Justice Umar to hands-off trial of the Senate President , Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is presently facing 18-count corruption charge before the CCT.
Abdullahi was docked on a two-count criminal charge before the Abuja high court.
He was accused of giving false information to EFCC investigators with regards to the N1.8million he collected from Owolabi.
EFCC, in the charge marked CR/137/15, accused Abdullahi of giving inconsistent statements pertaining to the actual reason behind the money Owolabi paid into his account, which was withdrawn the same day.
The defendant was said to have committed an office contrary to section 39(2)(a) of the EFCC Act. 2004 and punishable under section (39) (2) (b) of the same act.
However, in the course of the trial, the defendant, urged Justice Orji not to admit his initial statement that implicated Justice Umar.
He said that he made the statement under duress, intimidation and inducement of job and money offer by the EFCC operatives that wanted him to implicate his boss at all cost.
Owing to the development, Justice Orji ordered trial-within-trial on the matter to enable the court to ascertain the voluntariness or otherwise of the statement.
At the conclusion of the trial-within-trial, Justice Orji, in a ruling on Friday, dismissed Abdullahi’s objection and admitted the statement into evidence.
The Judge held that from the totality of evidence before her, there was nothing to suggest that the statement was made under duress or any form of intimidation as claimed by the defendant.
More so, the trial judge held that EFCC operatives that testified during the mini-trial, proved beyond reasonable doubt that the statement was made by the defendant on his own volition, in an open room.
Justice Orji described as an afterthought, claim by the defendant that he acted under coercion and was cajoled to make the implicating statement.
“I have carefully considered the evidence of both parties in this trial-within-trial and I have no problem in coming to the conclusion that the latter claim of the defendant that he made the statement under duress is a mere afterthought.
“I hereby over-rule his objection to the admission of the statement as exhibit and I hereby admit the statement as exhibit P5”.
The court subsequently fixed March 27 for continuation of trial of the defendant.