A Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Maitama, on Monday, rejected uncertified documents sought to be tendered by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) in the trial of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, and three others for alleged corruption.
The EFCC arraigned Mr Lawal alongside his younger brother, Hamidu Lawal; Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh John Monday and two companies, Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd; on March 18 on an amended 10-count charge bordering on fraud, diversion of funds and criminal conspiracy to the tune of over N500 million.
They were earlier arraigned before Jude Okeke on February 13 and the prosecution was meant to open its case on March 18.
During the court session on Monday, the judge, Mr Okeke, ruling on the admissibility of the document, held that the essence of certification was to ensure accuracy of documents tendered in evidence.
Mr Okeke said that although the prosecutor attached the uncertified documents into the bundle of original documents “It is the duty of the court to examine them to know whether they are admissible.
“I have examined the bundle of the documents and it consisted of original documents with attachments of uncertified ones, a total of 17 documents.
“The documents are bearing different dates. Besides this, it’s also numbered as different exhibits. The mere fact that they are stapled together does not make them one document, ” the judge held.
He said for a public document to be admissible, it must accord with the provision of section 104 of Evidence Act, 2011.
He then admitted seven original documents and rejected 10 uncertified ones.
Mr Okeke then adjourned to June 18 for the continuation of trial.
Meanwhile, on May 23, the counsel to the fifth defendant, O.Uzor, had objected when the prosecuting counsel, Ufom Uket, sought to tender the documents.
They are payment vouchers raised by PINE for payments to both Josmon Technologies Limited and Rholavision Engineering Limited respectively, through the first prosecution witness (PW1), Hamza Adamu.
Mr Uzor stated that while the vouchers were in the original copies, the other documents attached to them were photocopies, which were not certified.
According to him, the documents were public documents and that there are procedures for tendering such, as contained in Section 104 of the Evidence Act.
Responding to this, Mr Uket informed the court that the vouchers were in the original form. He said memos raised on the vouchers were attached with the vouchers.
He prayed the court to admit them, saying that each of the vouchers and the attachments were to be seen as one document.
The EFCC accused the former SGF of benefiting illegally from the approval of N544,119,925.36, for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation.
They alleged that Mr Lawal, being the SGF, and Hamidu Lawal, director of Rholavision Engineering Limited; and Abubakar, a staff, at about March 7, 2016, in Abuja conspired to commit the offence.
The EFCC further alleged that the defendants fraudulently acquired a property, contrary to Section 26 (1) (c) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.
The anti-graft agency also alleged that the former SGF knowingly held indirectly a private interest in the consultancy contract awarded to Rholavision Engineering Limited, for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N7 million and N6.4 million.
EFCC claimed that it was done through the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE).
It further alleged that on March 4 and August 22, 2016, contract for removing evasive grass worth N272.5 million and N258.1 million respectively were awarded to Josmon Technologies Limited, but was executed by Rholavision.
The offence, according to the EFCC, were contrary to Section 12 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.
The defendants, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Lawal was removed as SGF following public outcry that greeted his indictment by the Senate for the grass-cutting scandal.
It was after his removal and further public condemnations that he was questioned and subsequently charged by the EFCC.