Money Laundering Trial: Contractor Says He Lied to EFCC on the Instruction of Fayose’s Aide
A Lebanese contractor, Maroun Mechleb, has owned up to giving false information to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) about the ownership of a property linked to former Governor Ayodele Fayose.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Wednesday, he claimed to have given the false information on the instruction of Abiodun Agbele, one of the aides to the former governor.
The contractor said he had claimed ownership of the property in order to help Agbele, whom he described as a friend.
The Lebanese was testifying as the 10th prosecution witness in the trial of Ayo Fayose on allegations of receiving and keeping N1.2billion and $5million allegedly stolen from the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) contrary to the Money Laundering Act.
On Tuesday, the former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro concluded his testimony as the 5th Prosecution witness.
A banker, Mr Olugboyega Falae then testified as the 6th prosecution witnesses.
He told the court about the transactions leading to the acquisition of some properties allegedly linked to the former Governor.
On Wednesday, the EFCC called four additional witnesses in proof of its case against Fmr Gov. Fayose.
Among the four witnesses were three Lebanese – Goshen Joseph; Joseph Mechleb and Maroun Mechleb – who are working in Nigeria as building and construction engineers.
Of particular interest is the testimony of Maroun Mechleb, who identified himself as the Chief Executive Officer of a construction firm, Samchase Nigeria Limited, which is based in Akure, the Ondo State capital.
While being led in evidence by the EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), Mechleb told the court that he had done various jobs for both the Federal Government and some states, including Ekiti State.
He said he did jobs for Ekiti State in 2006, 2014, 2015 and 2016 when Fayose was governor of the state.
Mechleb told the court that the jobs he did for Ekiti State were facilitated by Abiodun Agbele – an aide to Fayose.
He said there was an agreement that he would “appreciate” Agbele for every contract he facilitated for Samchase Nigeria Limited.
Mechleb said though the “appreciation” was not specified, it was usually about 10 per cent of the contract sum.
The Lebanese, who told the court that he could neither write nor read English language, said the scope of the contracts was usually communicated verbally, saying, “We agreed that when he got jobs for me, I will appreciate him.
“We did not specify but it’s around 10 per cent.”
He said he gave Agbele N132.5million on one occasion as “appreciation” for an unspecified contract he facilitated.
In one of the counts of the charge, the EFCC had alleged that Fayose acquired chalets 3 and 4, 6 and 9 on Plot 100 Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island, Lagos in the name of JJ Technical Services Ltd with N1,151,711,573.
Mechleb told the court that he and his Lebanese brothers, who testified earlier, also ran J.J Technical Services.
The witness said he once lied to the EFCC about owning a property based on Agbele’s instructions in a bid to help “a friend”.
He said, “Mr Agbele asked for a company we can use to get a job. I gave the name (J.J. Technical Services) to Abiodun Agbele to help get a job for the company.
“Mr Agbele bought a property and put it in the company’s name. He gave me the documents of the property to sign. I cannot read English properly, but I just signed the documents,” Mechleb said.
“It was later that I got to know that the documents were about a property and I had to contact Mr Agbele.”
“At the beginning, I didn’t know it was document of a property but I later got to know when the EFCC invited me and I had to contact Mr Abiodun Agbele,” Mechleb said.
The Lebanese said Agbele instructed him to tell the EFCC that he owned the property, an instruction which the Lebanese said he followed while dictating his statement to the EFCC on July 28, 2016.
He said when he left the interrogation room, he told his lawyer who was with him that what he told the EFCC was not the truth, rather what Agbele instructed him to tell the anti-graft agency.
Mechleb said his lawyer was angry with him and told him to go back and tell the anti-graft agency the truth.
He said he went back immediately and dictated a second statement in which he denied ownership of the property in question.
During cross-examination, the second defence counsel, Mr Olalekan Ojo (SAN), asked Mechleb, “As an adult, will you tell a lie, if you are told to lie?”
Responding, the Lebanese said, “In the first statement, I didn’t say the truth because of the relationship between me and the person (Agbele).”
“I was trying to help a friend. I lied to help a friend at the time. But when the lawyer asked me, I went back to say the truth based on my conscience.”
Earlier, Goshen Joseph and Joseph Mechleb, who testified as prosecution witness 8 & 9, respectively, had denied knowledge of the property bought in the name of their company.
The 7th Prosecution Witness, Mr. Kennedy Osunwa, a Lawyer also earlier testified that he was engaged to prepare a Deed of Assignment with respect to a property in Lagos allegedly acquired by Agbele & JJ Technical.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun has adjourned further proceedings till April 15.
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