A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dele Belgore, standing trial before a Federal High Court in Lagos for alleged N450 million fraud over campaign funds of the People Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015 has denied complicity in the money-laundering offence.
Belgore, a former PDP Campaign Coordinator in Kwara State, told Justice Rilwan Aikawa last Friday that he was innocent of the charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He said that the EFCC pressed the charge against him though he did not benefit from the N450 million which was subject of the charge before the court. EFCC had dragged Belgore and a former Minister of Planning, Professor Abubakar Sulaiman, on nine counts charge, but had pleaded not guilty, and were granted bail.
Belgore, who concluded his evidence before the court last Friday, was led by his counsel, Mr Ebun Shofunde (SAN). He told the court that in his statement to EFCC, he gave detailed information about those who took possession, disbursed and used the N450 million.
PRNigeria recalls that top security officers in the Nigerian Police Force, Department of State Security Service (DSS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and even Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) were alleged to have shared from the Kwara PDP campaign funds in 2015.
“While I am being investigated by the EFCC on the alleged offences, I have neither admitted orally to have committed the offences nor made any statement to admit that I am guilty of the offences.
“I denied all the charges against me, I have never made any payment to all the names mentioned in the charge. “In order to assist the investigators, I gave them detailed information on who took possession of the fund and how it was disbursed and used; I didn’t benefit from the fund,” Belgore testified.
He had earlier told the court that the N450 million, which was set aside as campaign fund for the 2015 General Elections, was from fund-raising activities done by the PDP. He also denied claims that the money was from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Belgore said that throughout his tenure as the PDP campaign coordinator in Kwara, he had no dealings with Diezani and was not aware that the N450 million he signed for in 2015 came from her.
He added that claims by two EFCC investigators that the money was part of the N23 billion allegedly collected by Diezani from three oil marketers – Northern Belt Ltd., Actus Integrated Ltd., Midwestern Company – and one, Mr Leno Laitan, ahead of the 2015 General Elections, were false.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa has adjourned until May 6, for cross-examination of Belgore by both the second defence counsel and the prosecution. During the trial in 2017, the Federal High Court in Lagos was told how several individuals and public officials shared in an alleged bribe of $115 million paid by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke as part of campaign funds for the PDP towards the 2015 general elections.
PRNigeria recalls that the EFCC named the officials during the trial before Justice Rilwan Aikawa. In two documents it tendered before the court, the anti-graft agency said the individuals and public officials benefited from N450 million and N155,220,000 out of the $115 million (about N36 billion) Diezani cash.
The disbursements, which the EFCC claimed were bribes, were contained in a document titled, “Security and transportation per state”, and another one titled, “Kwara State”.
According to the first document, the Resident Assistant Inspector-General of Police (IGP) in Kwara State at the time got N1 million cash and the Commissioner of Police (COP) in Kwara State at the time received N10 million cash.
The Deputy COP in charge of Operations got N2 million cash. Also, the Assistant Commissioners of Police in charge of operations and administration in Kwara State, received N1 million cash each.
The document also showed that the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Kwara State for the 2015 general elections got N10 million cash. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Administrative Secretary in Kwara State at the time received N5 million cash. The document added that INEC’s Head of Department, Operations and “his boys” were given N5 million. Other officers received and shared N2 million among themselves.
Also listed as beneficiaries of the alleged bribe in the state were the “OC Mopol” and “his men”, who got N7 million, “2iC Mopol” and men in the state, who got N10 million; the Director of the State Security Service (SSS) and his men, who got N2.5 million.
The military in Kwara State was bribed with N50 million, according to the document, while other security agencies including the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) got N20 million.
An EFCC investigator, Usman Zakari, who brought the document, told the court that it was recovered from Belgore who was accused of collecting N450 million from Diezani and distributing same to beneficiaries in Kwara State.
The EFCC said he handled the cash without going through any financial institution, contrary to sections 1(a), 16(d), 15(2)(d) and18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.
According to the commission, the offence is punishable under sections 15(3)(4), and 16(2)(b) of the same Act. The SAN and the don were arraigned on charges of money laundering on February 8, 2017 and they pleaded not guilty.
Zakari was then the second witness to be called by the EFCC in its efforts to prove its case. The witness explained that Belgore volunteered the list to the EFCC when he was invited and interrogated by the anti-graft agency.
The investigator noted that Belgore’s endorsement on the document, stating: “document supplied by me, Mohammed Dele Belgore (SAN).” The second document the EFCC said it recovered from Belgore, also showed beneficiaries of a sum of N155,220,000 and the breakdown of what they got.
Among them were 15 electoral officers who each received, 250,000; 15 supervisors, who got N100,000 each; state Returning Officers who got N1m, among others. The two documents were tendered by the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo. They were admitted in evidence as Exhibit 7 and 7A, against Belgore and Suleiman, as their lawyers, Mr. Ebun Shofunde (SAN) and Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja (SAN), raised no objection.
In his evidence, Zakari told the court that the EFCC’s findings showed that the money was disbursed in cash to the beneficiaries. “My lord, the mode of payment, as contained in Exhibit 7, is cash payment. The payments were not done through any financial institution,” Zakari said.
Justice Aikawa also entertained Belgore’s application seeking the dismissal of the charges on the grounds that the EFCC failed to attach an affidavit showing that it had concluded investigation in the case before bringing the case to court.
But in opposition, the EFCC lawyer argued that the current law governing criminal cases in the country, was the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
He argued that the ACJA did not list filing of the said affidavit as one of the conditions that must be fulfilled before a criminal charge could be filed in court, stressing that the provisions of the ACJA were superior to that of the Federal High Court Practice Direction. Dele Belgore is said to be in APC while, Professor Suleman remain in PDP in the last general election.