The fourth prosecution witness called by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in the trial of the immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, Mustapha Yerima, on Tuesday, told a Federal High Court in Abuja, how the former CDS begged him to claim the ownership of a shopping mall he was building for him.
According to Yerima, he had attempted to conceal the ownership of the mall worth N1.8 billion when operatives of the EFCC stormed the site located at Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse 11, Abuja.
Yerima, a contractor and managing director of Rytebuilders Technologies Limited, had on Monday, told the court how he acquired the plot of land where the mall is located for N680 million for the former CDS.
The witness said he had claimed ownership of the property because Badeh and others had asked him to do so but failed in his effort to conceal the ownership of the property when operatives of the EFCC confronted him with actual documents relating to the true ownership of the property.
The former defence chief, Badeh is being tried on a 10-count charge for money laundering and diversion of public funds estimated at about N3.97 billion.
Yerima said: “We continued our work after the payment from the third parties until one fateful morning. One of my site supervisors called me that EFCC operatives were looking for me. So, immediately, I drove down to the site.
“He asked me, if the property belonged to Dasuki. I told them I had neither seen Dasuki nor met him. So, I was asked to report at their office by 3pm. Before I got to their office, I called Air Commodore Yishau, to tell him what has happened.
“So, he said since he had handed over the project to the original owner and that Alex (Jnr.) was the one coordinating, I should call him and explain to him. I then called him and told him that I wanted him to link me up with his father so that I could explain what was happening. But he told me his father was not around. But he said I should call Air Commodore Yishau back.
“After I spoke with Alex Badeh Jnr., it took some time for him to get back. When he eventually got back to me, he said they had discussed but that I should call back Air Commodore Yishau, who would then tell me what to tell EFCC operatives.
“Yishau called me and told me that since my company was into property development, that I should claim it. He said so because I think he was scared.
“It was at that point, this same Timothy Muje, a lawyer, called me that we should meet somewhere around Wuse 2. We met there and he handed over those same documents I gave them earlier.
“He deliberately refused to give me the power of attorney, the deed of assignment, between Right Builders and this other company, whose name I cannot remember, because the whole idea was for me to claim the property as they agreed between them.
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“I want to believe it was the agreement between Yishau, Alex Badeh Jnr, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh and the lawyer, Timothy Muje, that I should claim the property.
“What Barrister Timothy told me was that they had reached an agreement that I should please protect them. But when I got to EFCC, it was a different ball game because I was confronted with some chilling evidence.
“I was confronted with so many documents such as copies of drawings, statement of accounts and so many other documents relating to that project, including e-mail correspondents.
“At that point, I had no other choice than to tell EFCC exactly the way things were – just the way I narrated my testimony, everything that transpired.
“The approximate cost of the shopping mall was about N1.8 billion inclusive of the cost of the land. Since the EFCC operatives visited the site, they told us to stay off, since it was under investigation,” Yerima said.
Yerima also told the court that after the retirement of Air Commodore Yishau from the Air Force, Badeh’s son took over the role of intermediary between him and the former CDS.
Yerima said Badeh’s son – Alex Badeh (Jnr) – later authorised a third party, a company identified as Viteva, to make payment of N108 million into Rytebuilder’s account as part of the payment for the construction of the mall.
“The payment that came through the third party was as a result of the meeting between myself, Air Commodore Yishau and Alex Badeh Jnr.
“Prior to this meeting, there was a meeting that held between me and Air Commodore Yishau where he introduced Barrister Timothy Muje to me as the lawyer to Air Chief Marshal Badeh and that since he (Yishau) was retiring, I should transfer all necessary documents to the lawyer in the person of Barrister Timothy Muje, who was representing Air Chief Marshal Badeh.
“He (Yishau) came with a prepared Deed of Assignment and Power of Attorney, with my company’s name and one other company for the transferring of the title from Rytebuilders, which is my company, to the other company. He gave me copies to sign and I signed.
“I remember in that meeting I also met one Barrister Umar, who also came for the transfer of similar documents. I signed those documents and handed over the remaining documents in my possession to Barrister Timothy Muje.
“I mentioned earlier in my previous testimony, that the day the transaction was concluded, I only handed over the original Certificate of Occupancy to Air Commodore Yishau.
“This time around, I handed over the deed of assignment, the power of attorney between Ayodele Fayose and Tony to him. I also handed over to him, other documents, including the power of attorney between Cassagro and Rytebuilders.
“He gave me the power of attorney and the deed of assignment which he (Barrister Timothy Muje) came with which were already prepared in the name of the company, I cannot remember the name, but which was between that company and Rytebuilders. I signed it and gave it back to Barrister Timothy and then I left.
“The total money that I received from the third party was about N108 million. It was paid into my company’s account. Immediately I received an alert from Vetiva Nigeria Limited, I quickly called Alex Badeh (Jnr.) to confirm.
“He confirmed to me that they (he and his father) gave instruction to Vetiva to make the payment on their behalf. There are two other companies that also made deposits into my company’s account, which Alex Jnr confirmed to me that they made those deposits on behalf of them.
“Those two companies were Macden Communications Limited and Chimeize Puintes,” Yerima said as he ended his testimony.
Defence lawyers, Akin Olujimi, SAN, and Samuel Ologunorisa, SAN, declined to cross examine the witness, saying they needed time to study the statement of the witness, which they claimed was served them just on Tuesday.
Trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, adjourned to June 14, 15 and 16 for continuation of trial and Yerima’s cross-examination.
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