Alleged N2.5b fraud: NBC DG Kawu charged

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•Each gets N100m bail •Trial opens today

Trial of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Chairman Dr Ishaq Modibbo Kawu and two others will begin today in the N2.5billion fraud charge preferred against them.

They pleaded not guilty to the charge yesterday when they were arraigned before Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

The others are Pinnacle Communications Limited (PCL) Chairman Lucky Omoluwa and the Chief Operating Officer Dipo Onifade.

They were accused of complicity in the misappropriation of the N2.5billion meant for the Digital Switch-Over (DSO) project of the Federal Government.

The limping Kawu, who used a walking stick, and the others pleaded not guilty. Their lawyers, Abdulhakeem Mustapha (SAN), Alex Izinyon (SAN) and A. V. Etuwewe, applied for their bail.

Ruling on resumption of sitting, Justice Giwa-Ogunbajo granted the defendants N100million bail with two sureties each in the like sum.

The judge directed them to perfect their bail within 10 days, failing which they could be remanded in prison until they fulfil the conditions.

Justice Giwa-Ogunbanjo ordered that the sureties must be federal civil servants not below Grade Level 17, adding that they must show evidence of tax payment within the last three years.

One of the sureties, she said, must reside within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT); must own landed property in the FCT and must depose to an affidavit of means. The sureties addresses will also be verified.

The judge barred the defendants from travelling abroad and ordered them to deposit their international passports with the court.

Earlier, after the defendants entered their plea, prosecution lawyer, Henry Emore, asked to be allowed to call his witnesses to start the trial.

The defence lawyers objected and proceeded to argue their clients’ bail applications.

Mustapha represented Modibbo, Izinyon appeared for Omoluwa and Onifade, Etuwewe represented Pinnacle Communications Ltd.

In the 12-count charge, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) charged the defendants with abuse of office, money laundering and misleading a public officer with the intent to defraud the Federal Government, in contravention of Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.

In 2016, the Federal Government released N10 billion to the Ministry of Information and Culture for the execution of the digital switch-over project, which was intended to ensure the migration of government’s television stations to the digital platforms. The government equally issued a White Paper, directing how the process should be executed.

Under the guidelines, two companies were nominated to handle the process, one of which was ITS, an affiliate of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). N1.7 billion was said to have been released to the firm as seed grant for the execution of the project.

The ICPC alleged that Kawu fraudulently recommended Pinnacle Communications Limited, a private company, to the Minister of Information and Culture, for the release of the N2.5 billion against the guidelines contained in the White Paper.

Some counts in the charge read:

That you, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, Sir Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade sometime between December 2016 and May 2017, in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this court, conspired with one another to use the position of Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, as Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to confer corrupt advantage on Sir Lucky Omoluwa, your friend and associate by recommending to the Hon. Minister of Information to approve payment of the sum of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications Ltd, a private company owned by Sir Lucky Omoluwa as “Seed Grant” under the Digital Switch-Over programme of the Federal Government of Nigeria, when you knew that the company was not entitled to receive such grant and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 26 (1)(c) and punishable under section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.

That you, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu on or about the 11th May, 2017, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this court used your position as Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to confer corrupt advantage on Sir Lucky Omoluwa, your friend and associate, by recommending to the Hon. Minister of Information to approve payment of the sum of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications Ltd, a private company owned by Sir Lucky Omoluwa as “Seed Grant” under the Digital Switch-Over programme of the Federal Government of Nigeria, when you knew that the company was not entitled to receive such grant and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 26(1)(c) and punishable under section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.

That you, Pinnacle Communications Ltd and Sir Lucky Omoluwa on or about 2nd of June, 2017, in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honourable court took possession of and retained to your account no 1023875804 with Zenith Bank of Nigeria Plc, the sum of N2.5 billion, property of the Federal government of Nigeria, which you knew that the said sum is a direct proceed of criminal activity to wit: conspiracy, false information to a public officer and abuse of office and thereby you committed an offence contrary to section 11(a) and punishable under section 15(c) of the Money Laundering (prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended.

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