The criminal trial of a former banker, Chukwuemka Ekwunife, before an Ikeja Special offences Court, Lagos was stalled on Tuesday following the absence of a subpoenaed witness, who is to testify in his defence.
Ekwunife, who is standing trial on an 8 count charge of stealing, was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alongside Structured Energy Limited for stealing a total sum of N168.5m from several companies.
The EFCC alleged that Ekwunife, at different times in 2014, stole the said sum of money from, M.R.S oil and Gas, Exit Energy limited, Globin oil and Gas limited, Bond Energy, Greenage Energy Limited – all properties of Nepal Oil and Gas Limited.
However, during the proceedings on Tuesday, the defence lawyer, Eubena Amedie, informed the court of the absence of the subpoenaed witness.
According to Amedie, the witness was also absent on the last adjournment on January 25th, 2021 because a member of his family contacted COVID-19 and he came in contact with the family member, so he needed time to isolate himself from the public.
The witness’s absence, howeever, prompted the court to adjourn the matter till 19, 20 and 21 of April, 2021.
Meanwhile, in his defence, Ekwunife told the court that one Mrs Ngozi Ekeoma, owner of Nepal Oil and Gas Limited, used him to facilitate false documentations in Liberia in order to obtain money from the Federal government through subsidy scheme.
Ekwunife testified that he helped Mrs Ekeoma register several companies in Liberia to enable her carry out various importation of petroleum products particularly Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), under the petroleum scheme fund (subsidy scheme) with the FG.
The Ex-banker, had earlier narratively testified before the court how
Mrs Ekeoma, who is an oil marketer, used him to facilitate false documentations in Liberia in order to steal millions of Naira from the Federal government of Nigeria through subsidy scheme.
Ekwunife said he resigned from Sterling bank in 2014 the businesswoman pleaded with him to join her business and help her provide credit facilities for her companies.
Ekwunife said: “I helped her setup various companies like Structured Energy Resources Limited, Dexter Oil Limited, Ritrak Supply and Trading Limited, Gulf Trading and Shipping Limited – all registered in Liberia.
“These companies were used at various times to carry out trading and documentations related to subsidy by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We produced supporting documents like Bill of Laden, the recertification of products, the certificate of quality and certificate of Origin.
“These documentation were done outside the shores of Nigeria and used for trades that never happened in Nigeria. The documentation were done in Liberia for trades that were not live (feasible).
“We (referring to himself and Mrs Ngozi Ekeoma) used these documentations to carry out fraudulent activities by using documents formulated outside the country to perform trade in Nigeria that were not suppose to happen”.
Buttressing the claims made by Ekwunife, another witness, Mr Anthony Abraham, had earlier told the court that there exist a relationship between a former banker, Chukwuemka Ekwunife and a businesswoman, Mrs Ngozi Ekeoma, in an alleged subsidy fraud that took place in Liberia and Nigeria in 2014.
Mr Abraham, a financial consultant, said that he met Ekwunife in Liberia when he came to open accounts and register some companies.
Mr Abraham said he was introduced to Ekwunife by a former client and a friend, who he claimed not to remember his/her identity.
The Financial consultant said that had known Mrs Ekeoma Ngosi as a friend long before he knew Ekwunife, who he only met while he was working in Liberia with a bank, First International bank.
“I was working in Liberia with a bank called First International Bank when I met the defendant, Chukwuemeka Ekwunife.
“He came to do business in Liberia with intentions of opening accounts and registering some companies. If I recall, He was introduced to me by a former client and friend of mine, who I can’t really remember,” he said.
When asked if that friend was Mrs Ngozi Ekeoma, the witness said he can’t remember.
However, the defence Counsel showed a document, containing several emails of transactions which he sent to Ekwunife and copied Mr and Mrs Ekeoma, to the witness and asked him to identify it.
The witness identified the emails and said, “Yes I sent these mails to [email protected] (belonging to Ekwunife) and I copied three others namely; [email protected] (belonging to Mr Ekeoma), [email protected]. (belong to Mrs Ngozi Ekeoma) and U [email protected] (belonging to Mr Ugochukwu Onwuegbuna).
“The emails were sent as a result of transactions in an account, Dexter Oil Limited, which was opened by Mr. Emeka in Liberia and the account was opened with the same name.
“After it was opened, I wasn’t the direct account officer but an officer was assigned. Though I had an overview of the transactions. The account received both inflows and outflows. Mr. Emeka was the sole signatory of the account and instructions would normally come from him to run the account.
“I was asked to copy Mr Ugochukwu, who is also a Director in Dexter just as Ekwunife, and then copy both Mr and Mrs Ekeoma in each mail”.
When asked how he knew Mrs Ekeoma, he replied, “I’ve known her for many years – long before I met Ekwunife. I’ve never had any business transactions with Ngozi before I met Ekwunife. But Mrs Ngozi Ekeoma has a relationship with the defendant, Ekwunife”.
When asked why he copied Mrs Ekeoma if there was no business relationship, the Consultant replied, “I was asked to copy these people and I literarily don’t know all of them”.