N544m Fraud: Court Acquits, Ex-SFG, Babachir Lawal

A High Court in Abuja has discharged and acquitted a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr Babachir Lawal from the N544M contract fraud offences brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

N544m Fraud: Court Acquits, Ex-SFG, Babachir Lawal
Babachir Lawal

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, had on November 30, 2020, re-arraigned the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and six others before Justice Agbaza in Abuja.

The other defendants are Hamidu Lawal, Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh Monday and two companies; Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd.

They had pleaded not guilty to the charges when they first appeared before the late Justice Jude Okeke of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Maitama on February 13, 2019.

The case was to be opened on March 18, 20o19, but the prosecutor announced that changes had been made to the 10-count charge, thereby stalling the trial.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had accused them of fraud, criminal conspiracy and diversion of N500 million from the federal government.

The EFCC was still calling its witnesses when it was announced that the judge died on August 4, 2020, from a brief illness at the National Hospital in Abuja.

The case was then transferred to Justice Charles Agbaza of the Jabi Division of the FCT High Court, who fixed today (Monday) for the re-arraignment.

At their re-arraignment on Monday, the defendants again pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Justice Agbaza slated January 20, 2021, to restart the trial afresh.

The EFCC alleged that Babachir Lawal, while he was the SGF, converted and awarded cumulative proceeds of grass-cutting contracts worth over N500 million to companies he had interests.

Some of the counts in the charge marked CR/158/19 are: “That you Engineer Babachir David Lawal while being the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and a director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd, on or about the 7th of March, 2016 at Abuja in the Abuja Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory did knowingly hold indirectly a private interest in the consultancy contract awarded to Rholavision Engineering Ltd for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N7, 009,515.96 (Seven Million, Nine Thousand, Five Hundred and Fifteen Naira and Ninety Six Kobo only) by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) through the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE) and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 12 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.

“That you Engineer Babachir David Lawal while being the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and a director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd on or about the 4th of March, 2016 at Abuja in the Abuja Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory did knowingly hold indirectly a private interest in the contract awarded to Josmon Technologies Ltd but executed by Rholavision Engineering Ltd for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N272,524,356.02 (Two Hundred and Seventy-Two Million, Five Hundred and Twenty Four Thousand, Three Hundred and Fifty-Six Naira and Two Kobo only) by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) through the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE) and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 12 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.

“That you Engineer Babachir David Lawal while being the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and a director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd on or about the 22nd August 2016 at Abuja in the Abuja Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory did knowingly hold indirectly a private interest in the contract awarded to Josmon Technologies Ltd but executed by Rholavision Engineering Ltd for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N258,132,735.00 (Two Hundred and Fifty-Eight Million, One Hundred and Thirty-Two Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty-Five Naira only) by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) through the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE) and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 12 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000.”

However, the Court on Friday, November,18 held that the anti-graft agency failed woefully to establish a prima facie case against the Ex-SGF.

In a ruling on no case submission made by Babachir Lawal, Justice Charles Agbaza held that EFCC said that no ingredients of any offence were made out by the 11 witnesses that testified for the EFCC.

The Judge held that EFCC did not establish that Babachir Lawal was either a member of the Presidential Initiative for North East PINE that awarded the contract or a member of the Ministerial Tenders Board that vetted and gave approval to the disputed contract.

Besides, Justice Agbaza held that EFCC also failed to link Babachir Lawal with the Bureau of Public Procurement BPP which issued a certificate of no objection to the contract before it was awarded.

In, the Judge discharged and acquitted all the defendants in the 10-count criminal charges against them for want of evidence to link them with the purported offences.

They faced a 10-count charge bordering on fraud relating to the removal of evasive plant species to the tune of N544 million for which they pleaded not guilty.

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