Story by Gbenga Ogunbufunmi
A Federal High Court in Lagos today convicted two ex officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Christian Nwosu and Tijani Bashir, charged with N264.8 million gratification and money laundering.
Justice Mohammed Idris handed down the conviction on the defendants , while delivering his judgement in the trial which spanned several months.
The court, however, adjourned the sentence of the convicts, until Friday (tomorrow), to enable the first convict (Nwosu) appear in court.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had preferred a criminal charge against the convicts and one Yisa Adedoyin, who had already been convicted by the court after he pleaded guilty to the charges.
The convict were said to have accepted cash gratification from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Allison-Madueke, in the build up to the 2015 general elections.
The anti-graft Agency accused them of accepting the said gratification, which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act.
The convicts were re-arraigned after their co-accused (Adedoyin) had opted to change his plea by admitting to being complicit in the offences charged.
However, Nwosu and Bashir maintained their respective pleas of not guilty, while they opened their defences on September 19 and 21, 2018 respectively.
After conclusion of trial, parties adopted their final addresses on November 8, 2018 and the court had adjourned until January 23 for judgement.
On January 23 (yesterday), the court was ready to read its judgment, but counsel to the first convict, Mr Opara, informed the court of a sick leave certificate for Nwosu, from a hospital in Enugu, in which he was placed on bed rest.
He urged the court to grant an adjournment to a further date, to enable Nwosu appear.
In opposition, the prosecutor Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, vehemently urged the court to proceed with its “business” for the day, adding that such excuses was aimed at “arresting” the court’s judgment.
Justice Idris, however, further adjourned the case until Thursday (today) for judgement and ordered that Nwosu be brought to court unfailingly by 9.am.
When the case was called on today, Mr Obinna Okereke announced appearance for Nwosu, and informed the court that the convict was immediately informed to come down from Enugu after the court issued the order yesterday.
He, however, said that after Nwosu arrived Lagos, he was told that he fainted at the park and had been rushed to a hospital at Ajangbadi in Lagos, where his Blood Pressure was said to have read 200/140
He, also, urged the court to grant a short adjournment to enable his appearance in court adding that there was also a subsisting appeal in the instant case before the court of Appeal.
Again, Oyedepo objected to the prayer for adjournment citing the provisions of sections 305 and 314 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, he urged the court to proceed.
The prosecutor, described the request as a gimmick to stop the judgement.
He added: “A defendant who was able to travel from Enugu to Lagos, suddenly fainted when he arrived his destination; he did not faint on the way, I urge the court to refuse this excuse and proceed with judgement,”
In a bench ruling, Justice Idris dismissed the request for adjournment on the grounds that by the provisions of the law, his judgement ought to be delivered within 90 days after adoption of addresses.
Delivering his judgment afterwards, which lasted for 47 minutes, Idris gave a clear insight as to what constituted Money laundering, Conspiracy, as well as circumstantial evidence.
The court held that it is satisfied from the testimonies of prosecution’s witnesses, and the evidences tendered such as receipts of payments duly signed by the convicts, that the prosecution had been able to discharge the burden of proof on it, which in any case needs not be total.
Again, the court held that it was not in doubt that the convicts were guilty of the offences of conspiracy, as they both met in the bank to accept the cash payments of N70.05 million and N30 million out of the total sum of N264.8 million dole out of the ex petroleum Minister.
The court held : “I agree with the prosecution that the manner in which the transaction leading to this charge was consummated, shows clearly, a meeting of the minds.
“As stated earlier, the defendants showing their meeting of minds to commit the alleged offences, went to the bank, handed the cash to the second defendant, who conveyed same as instructed by the first defendant.
“They were not beneficiaries of any financial instruments or bank instrument, with which they can go to the bank to carry out such transaction; they made such cash payments without going through any financial institution and concealed, retained and used same.
“Any person, who contravenes any provisions of the money laundering Act, is liable upon conviction, to an imprisonment term of not less than seven years imprisonment and not more than 14 years imprisonment.
“To prove its case, the prosecution need not call all the witnesses, but only such witnesses necessary to prove its case.
“In the light of the forgoing, I hereby find the accused guilty of the charge, ” the court held
Following the absence of the first accused, the court deferred his sentencing to January 24 (Tomorrow), and ordered that the second accused who was present in court, be remanded in the EFCC custody pending sentence.
The court will deliver its sentence by 12.noon.