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N1.5bn Contract Scam: Court Jails ex-NIMASA DG, Omatseye

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Saturday, May 21st, 2016
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Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court, Lagos, on Friday convicted a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Raymond Omatseye, of N1.5bn contract scam and sentenced him to five years imprisonment.

The judge pronounced Omatseye guilty of 24 out of the 27 counts pressed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

She sentenced him to five years imprisonment for each of the 24 proven counts, holding that the sentences would run concurrently.

“I am satisfied that the prosecution has proved its case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt in the face of the offences contained in counts 1-20, 23, 24 and 26 of the amended charge and I accordingly found the defendant guilty as charged,” the judge held.

Omatseye was arraigned on January 21, 2013 by the EFCC before Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia on an amended 27 counts.

The EFCC accused him of engaging in contract splitting and bid rigging to the tune of over N1.5bn while in office as the DG of NIMASA.

The offence, the anti-graft agency said, contravened Section 58(4) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.

Omatseye was also accused of breaching the provisions of Section 14(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004.

Upon his re-arraignment on January 21, 2013 he had pleaded not guilty, following which the court ordered the prosecution to open its case.

To prove the allegations, the EFCC, through its lawyer, Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), called three witnesses, among who was an EFCC investigator, Ibrahim Ahmed; a former Acting Director of Procurement with NIMASA, Mohammed Shehu; and an officer of the Bureau of Public Procurement, Aminu Aliyu.

But when called upon to respond to the anti-graft agency, Omatseye, through his lawyer, Mr. Olusina Sofola (SAN), filed a no-case submission, contending that the charge filed against him by the EFCC was defective.

He argued that the prosecution had failed in the final analysis to establish a prima facie case against him to warrant him to enter the dock to defend himself.

But Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, in a ruling on February 2, 2015, dismissed Omatseye’s no-case application, holding that the EFCC had made a case strong enough to warrant him to canvass argument to exonerate himself of the charges.

Omatseye subsequently opened his defence at the end of which both parties on March 14, 2016 adopted their final written addresses and canvassed summary arguments.

In her final judgement on Friday, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia said she was satisfied that the EFCC proved the allegations in 24 out of the 27 counts against the former NIMASA boss beyond reasonable doubts.

She affirmed the allegation by the EFCC that Omatseye awarded various contracts between September 27, 2009 and February 15, 2010 in excess of the threshold stipulated in a circular dated March 11, 2009, released by the Bureau of Public Procurement, which was brought to his attention by a memo from the Ministry of Transportation.

Justice Ofili-Ajumogibia rejected the claim by the defence counsel, Edoka Onyeke, that Omatseye was unaware of the March 11, 2009 circular by the Bureau of Public Procurement, pointing out that he had admitted knowledge of the new threshold in his extrajudicial statement made to the EFCC and which was tendered in court as exhibit PD1.

“Exhibit PD1 was never challenged and same was admitted and I take it that it was truly made by the defendant. Not objecting to the statement of confession means admission,” the judge held, adding that the law was trite that ignorance was not an excuse under the rule.

The judge pointed  out copies of various letters of contract awards approved by Omatseye which the EFCC tendered as exhibits, wherein he awarded various contracts in excess of N2.5m for the procurement of goods and N5m for the procurement of services in violation of the March 11, 2009 circular.

Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia held, “A calm reading of the above mentioned exhibits revealed that they are repetitive awards of contracts for the supply of goods approved by the defendant in his position as the DG of NIMASA and all the contracts are above the threshold set out in exhibit PD162 thereby violating the provisions of Section 16(1)(a) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.”

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