A Port Harcourt-based pastor, Gobari Maxwell, of the Believers’ Love World Ministry aka Christ Embassy Church was yesterday arraigned before an Ikeja High Court for allegedly defrauding one of his members, Osazuwa Okungbowa, of N4.5 million. Maxwell, who superintends over one of the satellite churches led by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, was said to have tricked Okungbowa into believing that he would help him procure two plots of land near the Port Harcourt Polytechnic, Bori Camp.
A detective, Shedrach Ternenge Iyo, attached to the Cyber- Crime Section of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), told the court that the commission received a petition from the complainant sometime in September 2013, alleging that the pastor received N4.5 million from him through his wife’s First Bank account in bid to buy two plots of land.
Iyo, while being led in evidence by the prosecution, A. A. Adebayo, said the accused was not invited by the commission since he couldn’t be reached through the phone but was arrested in Port Harcourt and brought to Lagos for proper investigation.
According to the charge sheet, Maxwell allegedly committed the offence on June 12, 2012 at Ikeja Judicial Division by dishonestly converting the said sum to his personal use. He is facing a one-count charge of stealing contrary to Section 258(a)(b) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, No. 11, 2011.
“During investigation, the agency sent a letter to the two banks which were used for the transaction; a First Bank account belonging to the complainant’s wife and a Diamond Bank account belonging to the pastor, requesting for account statements. “When we received the banks’ response, we analysed both accounts and discovered that the sum transferred for the land purchase was N3.8 million while N700,000 was transferred as a loan to the pastor,” the detective said.
Iyo, however, noted that Okungbowa made the land payments in seven instalments through his wife’s bank account from June24 to May 31, 2012 in the variations of N300,000 and N500, 000 consecutively.
He added: “After volunteering a statement and being read a caution, the pastor confessed to have received the money but claimed he used it to settle his elder brother’s hospital bills, who was brought back to Nigeria from the United States of America (USA) for treatment.”
When asked by the prosecution if the agency visited the said land, Iyo said “we didn’t visit the land since the accused had told us that there was actually no land to visit and besides the area was under grave crises”.
“The pastor told the commission that there is no land and he didn’t have any specific land to buy for him, beside the area he had promised to purchase for him was already having community fights,” the detective added.
Meanwhile, the defence counsel, V. I. P. Nwana, objected to the statement of account which was presented to be tendered as exhibit by the prosecution, arguing that the witness was not the maker of the said document and therefore could not testify to its documentation as exhibit.
Nwana argued that the detective was not a bank operative and under the Evidence Act could only give evidence to the said document if the originator of the document was permanently indisposed to tender it, which was not the case.
Justice Kudirat Jose adjourned the matter till April 13 and 14 for conducting a trial within trial based on the admissibility of the document and continuation of trial.