The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Lagos Zonal office, on Thursday, arraigned the trio of Owolabi Kayode Samuel, Esther Olubukola Mate and Abimbola David-Orugun before Justice Hakeem Oshodi of the Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja, on a three-count charge bordering on conspiracy and stealing to the tune of N4, 576, 000.00.
The defendants, who are staff of Hope Worldwide Foundation, a non-governmental Organisation (NGO), were arraigned alongside Cumulative Ventures Limited and Continental Best Buys Limited.
One of the count reads: “That you, Owolabi Kayode Samuel, Esther Olubukola (a.k.a Bukky Mate, Bukola Mate), Abimbola David-Orugun, Cumulative Ventures, Continental Best Buys Limited, Olaoshebikan Candido Clement (at large) and Abosede Fasasi (at large), sometime in January, 2007, at Lagos, within the Ikeja Judicial Division, with intent to defraud, conspired to steal money, property of MTN Nigeria Foundation, a subsidiary of MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, set up to cater for the less privileged people and HIV victims across Nigeria and committed commit felony, to wit, stealing contrary to Section 516 of the Criminal Code Cap C17, Vol.2, Laws of Lagos State, 2003.”
Another count read: “That you, Owolabi Kayode Samuel, Esther Olubukola (a.k.a Bukky Mate, Bukola mate), Abimbola David-Orugun, Cumulative Ventures, Continental Best Buys Limited, Olaoshebikan Candido Clement (at large) and Abosede Fasasi (at large), sometime in October,2011 at Lagos within the Ikeja Judicial Division, with intent to defraud, dishonestly converted the sum of N3, 556, 000. 00 (Three Million Five Hundred and Fifty- Six Thousand Naira) property of MTN Nigeria Foundation, a subsidiary of MTN Nigeria Communications Limited , set up to cater for the less privileged people and HIV Victims across Nigeria and committed stealing contrary to Section 285(1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011.”
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them by the EFCC.
In view of their pleas, the prosecution counsel, K.M.A. Olushesi, asked the court for a short date for the commencement of trial.
However, in his response, counsel to the defendants, J.O. Odubela, SAN, informed the court that he had filed bail applications on behalf of his clients and also urged court to grant them bail on liberal terms.
Justice Oshodi granted the defendants bail on self-recognizance.
The defendants were also ordered to enter a financial bond of N2million each, which should be paid to the Chief Registrar of the Lagos State High Court.
Also, the defendants were ordered to deposit their international passports with the court’s Registrar.
The judge, however, said that the bail would be revoked, if the defendants fail to perfect the bail conditions within seven days.
Meanwhile, the judge ordered the commencement of trial, after the prosecution counsel, Olushesi, confirmed the presence of his witnesses in court.
Led by the prosecution counsel, the first prosecution witness, PW1, Abasiekong Udobang, Programme Manager, MTN Nigeria, told the court how the defendants misappropriated about funds meant for the treatment of people living with the Acquired Immunized Deficiency Syndrom (AIDs) and the less-privileged in the society.
Udobang also informed the court that the money belonged to MTN Foundation, a subsidiary of MTN Nigeria, which was established for the purpose of giving back to the society, in line with its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
In his further evidence, Udobang said that MTN, in 2005, engaged Hope Worldwide in order to implement two of its medical support programmes: Partners Against Malaria and Aids and Children and the Orphaned in the Community.
“MTN usually gives funds to Hope Worldwide Nigeria, since it is a non-governmental organisation, on a quarterly basis.
“Those funds were usually retired to MTN Foundation as a proof that the work was done.
“Every year, we usually work towards a new agenda until 2012 when we became suspicious of some of their retirements,” he added.
The witness further said that the case was reported to the Business Risk Units of MTN (BRM) for investigation.
He said: “Following the information from BRM, we discovered that funds meant for buying drugs at the centres for HIV/AIDs victims were misappropriated.
“It was also discovered that documents were added in the names of two companies that we don’t have any dealings with.
“After the findings from the BRM, the matter was reported to the EFCC for further investigation.”
Under cross-examination by the defence counsel, J. O.Odubela, SAN, the witness confirmed that the money meant for the treatment of the AIDs victim was usually paid to Hope Worldwide quarterly.
The witness also stated that after the fraud was discovered, members from the NGO were invited for a meeting to tell them the findings of BRM and that a letter was written to inform them about the fraud.
Udobang, who further said that the discovery led to the termination of the contract with the NGO, insisted that the letter itemised the area where they suspected the alleged fraud.
He, however, could not present the letter written to Hope Worldwide in court.
Consequently, Justice Oshodi adjourned the case to June 26, 2018 for continuation of trial.