Alleged N2bn Fraud: Court Admits Fresh Exhibit Against Ita
Justice F. Giwa Ogunbanjo of Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Monday, January 22, 2024 admitted a fresh exhibit against Emmanuella Eteta Ita, Head of Stakeholders Unit of the Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS and Surestart School Ltd in a trial within trial to determine the admissibility of her statement with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Ita and Surestart School Ltd are standing trial on 25-count charges bordering on criminal misappropriation, diversion, criminal breach of trust and money laundering to the tune of N2billion.
Ita’s counsel, Paul Erokoro had objected to the admissibility of the statement of her client before the court, claiming that it was exacted from her under duress and in the absence of her counsel. This came even as the defendant reportedly volunteered her statement to EFCC’s investigators in the presence of Eka Didara-Abasi Akpata, a lawyer from Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, who accompanied her to the EFCC office.
Ruling on the matter on Monday, Justice Ogunbanjo stated that the defence did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the statement of the defendant was not voluntary. Citing Section 15 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, he further stated that electronic recording of a defendant’s statement was not mandatory, so also the presence of a defendant’s counsel. With the ruling, the statement was admitted in evidence and marked “Exhibit 25.”
Further on the matter, Ijeoma Matilda, an EFCC operative, led in evidence by prosecuting counsel, Ekele Iheanacho, concluded her testimony on the matter. According to her, information provided by System Specs, a Federal government Remittance payment platform through which funds were allegedly funneled into Surestart School Ltd between 2017 and 2018, amounted to N173,346,391.50. Surestart School Ltd is the second defendant, owned by the first defendant.
“We observed that there were transfers to the tune of N145,218,000 from the account of the first defendant to the second defendant, Surestart School Ltd. During the reconciliation with the defendant`s account she could not provide documents to justify the sum of N 158million which is the total money that came to her account. And in a bid to explain, she brought copies of receipts she signed which she claimed were receipts for Lomein Express Ltd. We contacted the owner of Lomein Express Ltd who said that the receipts did not emanate from them. She also brought letters of reimbursement, we invited all the companies she mentioned and they all denied that the receipts were from them while other addresses do not exist,” she said.
While the first defendant also claimed that she resigned as the director of Surestart School Ltd, the prosecution witness revealed that documents from the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC established that she was the owner of the school.
Speaking further, the witness stated that Ita has refunded about N19.5million so far, which was made at different dates into the EFCC
s account domiciled with the CBN. According to the witness, “We requested for her salary account with Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS. In the course of analyzing the account, we discovered that around 2016, a huge sum of money was moved into the second defendants account and that over N277million had entered into her salary account apart from her allowances, which were funds for travel allowance and entertainment expenses.”
Matilda further revealed that the frequency of money paid by the first defendant into the second defendant’s account increased from February 2016 with every of her salary being transferred to the second defendant’s account.
Justice Ogunbanjo adjourned the matter to January 23 and 24, 2024