Former Information minister Lai Mohammed’s absence in court on Wednesday, stalled a trial over his role in the alleged approval of N2.5bn to Pinnacle Communications Limited.
Mohammed failed to appear before Justice Folashade Giwa of the Federal High Court Abuja, to explain his role in the money approved for the Federal Government Digital Switch Over (DSO) project.
The sitting was in furtherance of the trial of the Director-General of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Modibbo, Pinnacle Communications Ltd, and two others.
ICPC prosecution counsel, Henry Emore, listed Mohammed as additional witness to give testimony on the approval of payment of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle.
After calling two witnesses, however, the prosecution counsel told the court that Mohammed was not in court.
The ICPC prosecutor said the former minister travelled out of the country and was expected back in the country on or before July 31.
Emore further told the court that Mohammed made his statement before the ICPC.
He also informed the court that the other witness he wished to call, was still in Saudi Arabia.
Counsel to Onifade Oladipupo, (2nd defendant), and Lucky Omoluwa (3rd defendant), Alex Izinyon, SAN, however, told the court that he had already filed an application to oppose the list of additional witness filed by the prosecution counsel.
Izinyon disclosed that the defence team had already joined issues with the prosecution on the failure of ICPC to call Mohammed who approved the payment to Pinnacle and joined him as a defendant in the case.
One of the witnesses called by the ICPC claimed that the former minister refused to make statement to the ICPC, insisting that he needed to get clearance from the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF).
During a cross-examination by Izinyon, a prosecution witness Olugbemi Abraham, revealed to the court that “during investigation, we could not interview Mohammed because he said he needed clearance from the Secretary to Government of the Federation.”
Abraham, however, revealed that they later took statement from Mohammed during the pendency of the case.
He admitted that, “Really, we did not bother to get in touch with the SGF to enable him allow the former Information Minister to make statement.”
Abraham also affirmed that NBC, based on the provision of the White Paper that government should provide condition for a level playing field for signal distributors, was in position to determine the level playing field.
“Under further cross examination by Amah Etuwewe, counsel to the fourth defendant (Pinnacle Communications), the witness said upon investigation, they did not value the facility put in place by Pinnacle at the Abuja DSO site.
“Furthermore, the witness admitted that the N2.5 billion was released under the supervision of the former Information Minister.
“To the best of my knowledge, the Presidency that released the N10billion to the NBC for the purpose of DSO has not complained of how the fund was used.
“I am not aware if the former Minister had withdrawn his approval.”
Justice Giwa adjourned the case until July 1, for ruling on a motion by the 2nd and 3rd defendants seeking the release of their international passports to enable them travel abroad for official functions.