Story by Gbenga Ogunbufunmi
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Dele Belgore, today denied the allegation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) that he laundered the sum of N450 million in 2015.
The EFCC is prosecuting Belgore before Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court, Lagos for allegedly benefiting N450m from the sum of $115.01m, which a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, allegedly doled out to influence the 2015 general elections.
The EFCC said Belgore, alongside a former Minister of National Planning, Prof Abubakar Sulaiman, went to a branch of a new generation bank in Ilorin on March 26, 2015 to sign for and collect the N450m cash.
However, while giving evidence in chief , Belgore admitted being invited by the bank manager on March 26, 2015 to take delivery of the N450m cash, but said he ended up leaving the bank without the money.
The defendant, who said he was the Kwara State Coordinator of the then President Goodluck Jonathan re-election campaign, said he did not collect the N450m because on getting to the bank he realised that the money was too huge for his Toyota Prado jeep.
Belgore said, “I indicated to PW1 (bank manager) that I could not collect the money and I gave two reasons. First, I said this money was coming two days before the election; all the stakeholders and party members were aware of the arrival of the money and therefore, I did not consider it safe to move such a huge amount of money out of the bank in the middle of the night.
“The second reason was that I did not come prepared to receive and take away such a large amount of money, as I came only in my vehicle, a Toyota Prado jeep.
“As I said earlier, the heap of cash that I saw in the bank’s loading bay was at least three to four feet high. So, I told PW1 that if it took a bullion van to transport the cash from the Central Bank of Nigeria to the bank, there was no way I would be able to evacuate those funds with my Toyota Prado.”
Belgore said following a long argument between him, Suleiman and the bank manager, the bank manager told them to sign for the money and agreed to keep the money in the bank’s vault.
“After signing the document, I left the bank without the money. I did not take a penny out of the bank; I left the bank empty-handed,” he said.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa adjourned further proceedings till February 28, 2019, at the instance of Belgore’s lawyer, Mr Ebun Shofunde (SAN), who said he needed time to preview the CCTV footage of the events that took place within the banking hall on March 26, 2015 when Belgore and Suleiman visited.
In the charges against them, the EFCC insisted that Belgore and Suleiman received N450m from Diezani and laundered same.
The anti-graft agency said they ought to have “reasonably known” that the N450m was part of proceeds of unlawful activities, adding that they handled the money without going through any financial institution, contrary to the provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
But the SAN and the professor have pleaded not guilty.