Four companies that pleaded guilty to laundering $15.5million allegedly belonging to former First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan has urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to reverse their guilty plea.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned them with a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to ex-President Jonathan, Dr Waripamo Dudafa, a lawyer Amajuoyi Briggs, who is the companies’ secretary, and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku.
Unlike the companies, Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty to the 17-count charge.
The companies lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) told Justice Babs Kuewumi that the companies were not given a fair trial before their conviction because they had no legal representation of their choice.
“Throughout the trial, they did not have any counsel or counsel of their choice,” the SAN said, adding that the judge’s attention been drawn to it, the court would have ordered the prosecution to provide a counsel for the defendants.
He said he was briefed to represent the companies after its directors pleaded guilty despite not being authorised by the board to do so.
Moving his motion seeking to set aside the companies conviction, Ozekhome said the they were convicted “in gross violation” of the 1999 Constitution, which he said occasioned a miscarriage of justice.
He prayed the court that the trial be conducted de novo (afresh) and the previous proceedings declared null, void and unsustainable in law.
The application, he said, is on the ground that the court failed to pass a sentence on the convicted companies, as the judge reserved sentence till end of the trial of the other defendants.
“The lapse in time between the conviction and expected sentence amounts not only to torture, but breach of right to be tried within a reasonable time. Because there was no sentence, they cannot exercise their right of appeal,” he said.
Besides, Ozekhome said the directors who pleaded guilty were not authorised by the board to defend the companies, which he said were denied the right to cross-examine the purported directors in a proper trial.
“They are just busybodies and interlopers who were pressured to come and plead guilty. They had no mandate to do so,” he said.
The defence counsel said conviction was “grossly unfair” and amounted to “justice crushed” due to non-compliance with Section 36 of the 1999 constitution which requires that an accused be given adequate facilities to defend himself.
“We urge my lord to set aside this manifest, manifold travesty of justice. We need a trial de novo. We are crying on bended knees. The companies want to be tried, but they want to be defended in this trial, not ‘nicodemusly’, but in the public,” he said.
But, Prosecuting Counsel Rotimi Oyedepo urged the court to refuse the application for being an abuse of court process.
According to him, it amounted to asking the judge to revisit his ruling and to assume the position of an appellate court.
“Your Lordship is functus officio,” he said, adding that the companies have a right to appeal their conviction.
“Re-inviting my lord to set the conviction aside is like asking him to return to Egypt when he has crossed the red sea. This application is asking my lord to constitute himself into an appellate court. This application is a violent abuse of process of this court and should be frowned at,” Oyedepo said.
He denied that the directors who pleaded guilty were not authorised to do so, saying there was evidence that they were indeed the company’s directors from the Corporate Affairs Commission and from the companies bank accounts.
Justice Kuewumi adjourned until July 3 for ruling and hearing of another pending by Briggs.