The main prosecution witness in the trial of a former member of the House of Representatives, Farouk Lawan, Wednesday testified before a High Court
of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, PREMIUM TIMES reports.
Femi Otedola, the founder of Zenon Oil, was allegedly pressured by Mr Lawan to part with a $3 million bribe while the latter was chairing a subcommittee investigating a multi-billion dollar fraud associated with government fuel subsidy during the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan.
Mr Lawan was re-arraigned in December 2016 by the Nigerian government for the alleged offence.
On Wednesday, Mr Otedola entered the witness box after he was introduced by the prosecution counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo.
Shortly after, the prosecution played a video where Mr Lawan was seen receiving $500 000 from Mr Otedola.
The witness then addressed the court on the events narrated in the video, following questions from Mr Awomolo.
According to Mr Otedola, the accused had indicted his company in the alleged fraud and demanded $3 million to exonerate him.
The witness added that after the initial deposit of $500,000 was paid into his account, Mr Lawan declared Zenon Oil and Gas free of the initial indictment.
“After the early hours of 24th April 2012: (the time the money was paid) he left and removed the name of Zenon from the list of indicted companies,” Mr Otedola said while explaining the events that prompted his alleged payment of $500,000 to Mr Lawan in April 2012.
When asked by the prosecution counsel about the claim by Mr Lawan that the witness forced him to take the money, Mr Otedola denied it.
“I could not have put pressure on him because Zenon Oil was not involved in the theft of the subsidy fund.
“He did demand. And if he did not demand, why will he collect and expect a balance of $2.5 million? He mentioned to me that the $3 million will be shared by himself and some other members of the House,” Mr Otedola said.
“Moreover, the company in question was not involved in the importation of petroleum motor spirit (PMS) and as such never applied to withdraw from the petroleum fund.”
The witness also denied an allegation by Mr Lawan that he (Otedola) offered to pay the money so that his name would be removed from the list of indicted companies.
“I did not offer any $3 million, because I was one of the biggest players in the business. And I reported the matter initially when I found out about the scam. And he mentioned to me that several companies that were involved in the scam were paying. And I reported to the SSS.”
Mr Otedola also denied a claim by Mr Lawan that Zenon Oil and Gas was exonerated on the basis of documents later provided by the company.
“It was the money because during the course of the sitting of the subcommittee we had submitted all the documents.”
Mr Otedola said his report to security operatives on the matter prompted investigations into the allegations by the police who invited him for questioning after which his statement was taken.
The defence was unable to cross-examine the witness after a lawyer from Mike Ozekhome’s chambers requested for an adjournment to enable his principal to attend the next trial and conduct the cross-examination.
The lawyer said he was sick and could not proceed with the cross-examination at the day’s sitting.
The judge, Angela Otaluka, adjourned the matter to January 28 for cross-examination.
The judge added that the defence should prepare itself to start and finish the cross-examination on the next adjourned date
Mr Lawan was first arraigned in February 2013 along with another accused, Boniface Emenalo, for allegedly receiving $620,000 of the alleged bribe from Mr Otedola and his company.
The case was then handled by Adebukola Banjoko also of the same FCT High Court.
Ms Banjoko, however, stepped down from the matter in 2014, following allegations of bias brought against her by the defence.
The charge was later amended to include only Mr Lawan who was accused of receiving $500,000 of the total sum intended to be paid as bribe.