N715m alleged fraud: FG opens case against ex-minister Turaki

• Calls Jonathan’s ex-aide as witness

The Federal Government on Tuesday opened its trial in the alleged N715 million fraud case against the former minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki (SAN) before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.

Tribune Online reports that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), prosecuting Turaki on behalf of the Federal Government opened its case against the former minister by calling an ex-aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan as its first witness.

The anti-graft agency had, on May 4, 2020 arraigned Turaki, who was a former minister during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan on a 16-count charge.

Arraigned along with the former minister were his special assistant, Sampson Okpetu and two companies, namely, Samtee Essentials Limited and Pasco Investment Limited.

The EFCC alleged, in the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/61/2020 that Turaki used the two companies belonging to his aide, to illegally siphon public funds estimated at N714, 670, 014.87, an allegation he denied.

When the matter came up on Tuesday, the prosecuting counsel, Mohammed Abubakar called his first witness, Tahir Umar Tahir, who served between 2013 to 2015 as Senior Special Assistant to ex-President Jonathan.

Led in evidence, Tahir told the court that, Jonathan sought his advice on January 23, 2014, on how to address the growing insecurity, particularly as its related to Boko Haram insurgency, hate speech and hateful preaching by Islamic organisations.

He said he suggested to the then President the need to organise series of sensitisation activities with religious leaders and bodies, a suggestion he said Jonathan agreed to and asked him to raise a proposal to that effect, outlining the plan of action and the budget.

The witness said his budget for the project was N359million, which the then President approved and directed the Minister of Finance to release.

He said, by his plan, he had planned to carry out the activities in the six geo-political zones and in each of the 19 Northern states.

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Tahir said since his office had no bank account of its own, he liaised with the Ministry of Special Duties, headed by Turaki.

The witness said around January 20, 2015, the Minister of Special Duties told him that the Finance Minister has released N200 million for his project and added that the Minister later caused N150 million to be transferred, in three tranches, into the account of one of the groups he worked with on the project – Community and Youth Development – which he had given the Minister.

Tahir said he only got N200m out of the N359m he requested for, saying that he could not do all he planned to do because the entire budget was not released to him and that, when the EFCC called him later to ask him about details of the assignment carried out and how he disbursed the money, he explained to the agency what he did and presented documents and vouchers as evidence.

The prosecution later tendered through the witness, some documents, including the Tahir’s appointment letter, his schedule of duty, the memo he wrote to President Jonathan on the issue, his memo to the Minister (Turaki), and the approval given by the then President.

After the conclusion of the witness’ evidence-chief, counsel to the defendants prayed the court for time to return for cross-examination, a request the trial judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo granted and adjourned the matter till September 21, 2020, for the continuation of trial.

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