Three staff of a non governmental organization ( NGO), Hope Worldwide Foundation and two private companies were on Thursday arraigned before a Lagos High Court for allegedly stealing N1 billion from MTN Nigeria.
The money is meant for the treatment of people living with Acquired Immunized deficiency (AIDs) and the less privileged in the society.
The suspects included a Fellow of the Institute Of Chartered Accountant, Owolabi Kayode Samuel, Esther Olubukola Mate, Abimbola David, Cumulative Ventures Limited, Continental Best Buy Limited and others at large.
They are standing trial on three count charge bordering on conspiracy and stealing preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before Justice Hakeem.
The defendants however pleaded not guilty to the three count charge of conspiracy to stealing and stealing.
The anti-graft agency alleged that defendants sometimes in January 2007, in Lagos conspired to steal property of MTN Foundation set up to cater for the less privileged victims across the country.
The defendant were also alleged to have stolen the sum of N3.556m , belonging to MTN Foundation.
EFCC also alleged that the defendants fraudulently converted the sum of one million, twenty thousand (N1.020m , meant to cater for HIV/AIDs patients and other less privileged in the society to personal use.
The offenses according to EFCC contravenes sections 516, 285 of the criminal law of Lagos State 2003, 2007 and 2011.
The defendants all pleaded not guilty to the three count charge.
The defense counsel, Odubela (SAN) informed the court that he has filed a bail application on behalf of the first, second and third defendants.
Odubela urged the court to grant the defendants bail on liberal terms.
” My Lord, the first defendant is a Fellow of the Institute Of Chartered Accountant and a former Rotary president in Omole, and he cannot jump bail.
In his response, EFCC counsel said he will not be opposing the bail application because the defendants have never flaunt the administration bail granted to them by EFCC.
Justice Oshodi granted the defendants bail in the sum of N2m each .
In his ruling ” Oshodi said, the defendants are hereby granted bail in self recognizance.
They are to pay the sum of N2m each to the Chief registrar and their international passport should also be submitted to the appropriate authority.
Led in evidence by EFCC counsel, K.M.A Olushesi, the lead witness Abasi Ekong, told the court how the defendant’s who were all representing Hope Worldwide Foundation, allegedly defrauded MTN Nigeria of N1billion.
Ekong who is also a Project Manager with MTN Nigeria Limited, informed the court that MTN Foundation is a subsidiary of MTN Nigeria established with the purpose of giving back to the society through their corporate social responsibility programmes (CSR).
He said the programme involves opening of dialysis centers and other medical support.
According to him, MTN in 2005 engaged Hope Worldwide in order to implement two of their medical support programs, ‘Partners Against Malaria and Aids, Children and the Orphaned in the Community (PAMAC).
“MTN usually gives funds to Hope Worldwide Foundation, since they are non-governmental organisations, on quarterly basis and those funds were usually retired to MTN Foundation as a proof that the work was done.
“Every year, we usually works towards a new agenda until 2012 when we became suspicious of some of their retirements”.
The witness further said that the case was reported to the Business Risk Units of MTN (BRU) who investigated the matter and it was discovered that there was misappropriation of funds.
“Following the information from BRU, we discovered that funds meant for buying drugs for centers for HIV/AIDs victims were misappropriated.
“It was also discovered that documents were added in the names of two companies whom we don’t have any dealings with”, the witness stated.
Ekong said sequel to the findings from the BRU, the matter was reported to EFCC for further investigation.
While being crossed-examined by the defence Counsel, Mr. 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.
He also disclosed that after the fraud was discovered, members from the NGO were invited for a meeting to tell them the findings of BRU and and a letter was written to them to inform them of their the itemized fraud.
He said the contract establishing the relationship was thereafter terminated.
The trial Judge, Justice Oshodi adjourned the matter till June 26 for continuation of trial.