More revelations have been made at the ongoing trial of bankers involved in the re-circulation of mutilated currency notes meant for briquetting running into over N8 billion, as the court yesterday was told how some of the suspects allegedly purchased properties in South Africa, invested in several housing estates and fuel stations in Nigeria, and operated fat accounts domiciled in local commercial banks.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had in September last year invited the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to unravel the alleged racket, which started as far back as 2011 in the Ibadan branch of the central bank, with a view to bringing the culprits who had acted in collusion with officials in commercial banks to justice.
Six middle-level staffers of the CBN who were alleged accomplices in the racket had either been dismissed or put on indefinite suspension, according to the CBN.
The latest revelations came as some mild theatrics ensued at the Federal High Court Ibadan, where the affected bankers, six of whom worked with the CBN while the remaining 15 were employees of First City Monument Bank Limited, Sterling Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Wema Bank Plc, Ecobank Plc, Skye Bank Plc and Access Bank Plc, were brought to court.
A cash officer with one of the commercial banks, Ayodeji Aleshe, who was one of the 14 accused persons arraigned before the court, elected to speak in Yoruba after claiming not to understand English.
Following his request, the trial judge, Justice Adeyinka Faaj momentarily stood down the matter to enable the court secure a Yoruba interpreter for him.
The interpreter carefully read out all the charges to him in Yoruba and he, like others, pleaded not guilty to all the charges preferred against him by the EFCC.
However, miffed by Alashe’s claim that he did not speak English, the lead counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) told reporters after the court’s sitting that Aleshe purportedly escaped custody after his arrest before the arraignment, saying: “We were looking for him. He went into hiding somewhere. All his sureties were arrested last night (Tuesday) before we were able to get him.”
Jacob also stated that the court would form an opinion on Aleshe on why a cash officer of a first generation bank claimed he did not understand English, yet he allegedly has a credit balance of N132 million in one of his bank accounts, aside other property.
Other than Alashe, 14 other suspects appeared before the trial judge. They included three CBN staff and six staff of three commercial banks. A total of 63 charges were preferred against the accused persons.
This brought the number of suspects who have been arraigned in the first two days of the trial to 21.
The court also showed mercy on one of the suspects, Kehinde Fadokun, a nursing mother.
Her counsel, Mr. Musibau Adetunbi, had moved a motion that his client, who has a nine-month-old baby who was still being breastfed, be kept in the custody of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) in Ibadan, where she would have access to her baby, and not in the prison.
Justice Faaj granted the application when the lead counsel to EFCC did not raise any objection to the application raised by Fadokun’s lawyer.
At the opening of the second case involving the six commercial bank staff yesterday, the counsel to the accused also laboured in vain to make the judge accept an oral application for their bail.
The accused persons were Oni Ademola Dolapo, Afolabi Esther Olunike, Ademola Ebenezer Adewale , Kolawole Muniru Adeola, Toogun Kayode Phillip and Omotoso Abimbola, now at large.
The lead prosecution counsel addressed the court, informing the judge that his team had filed a charge dated May 19 and urged the court to accept it and permit it to be read to the accused.
The six accused persons were all facing a total of 15 charges ranging from conspiracy, abuse of office, stealing, to false declaration of the actual amount, concealing of property, and fraudulently acquiring assets in excess of their legitimate and provable income.
They all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
After the plea was taken, the judge ordered that they be remanded at Agodi Prison and adjourned to June 8 for hearing of bail applications.
In the third case, five of them were arraigned including the nursing mother. The accused were Kolawole Babalola, Oaniran Muniru Adeola, Toogun Kayode Phillip, Olukunle Sijuade and Mrs. Fadokun.
The charge sheet against the accused was read out to them and they pleaded “not guilty” to the 15-count charge ranging from stealing, fraud, conspiracy, and acquiring for themselves supposed mutilated currencies and recycling same.
The counsel to Fadokun also drew the attention of the court to the circumstances surrounding the accused person and requested the trial Judge to grant an application before the court for bail for his client. But the Judge declined the counsel's request.
Their case was later adjourned to June 12 for hearing of their bail applications.