N650m fraud: EFCC rejects ex-FCT minister Akinjide’s settlement terms - News and More

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Friday, 23 February 2018

N650m fraud: EFCC rejects ex-FCT minister Akinjide’s settlement terms

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday opened its case against a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Jumoke Akinjide, who was charged with an alleged fraud of N650m.

The anti-graft agency called its first witness in the case, after rejecting the proposal by the ex-minister and her co-defendants to settle the case out of court.

Counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Nnaemeka Omenwa, told the court that as the settlement terms proposed by the defendants did not comply with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act on plea bargain, the anti-graft agency was opting for a full trial.

The EFCC arraigned Akinjide and two others before the Federal High Court in Lagos on January 16, 2018 on 24 charges bordering on conspiracy and money laundering.

Akinjide and her co-accused persons — Senator Ayo Adeseun and Chief Olanrewaju Otiti — were accused of collecting N650m from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.

The anti-graft agency claimed that they ought to have “reasonably known that the money formed part of proceeds of an unlawful act,” adding that they handled it without going through a financial institution in violation of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.

But they pleaded not guilty.

At the previous proceedings, Akinjide’s lawyer, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), had told the court that his client had approached the EFCC with a proposition to settle the case out of court.

Ayorinde said his client was willing to return the N650m and urged Justice Muslim Hassan to grant parties a short adjournment to enable them to finalise talks.

The lead counsel for the EFCC in the case, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, had then confirmed that Ayorinde had broached the proposition to him, saying that the EFCC was open to plea bargain in line with the provisions of Section 270 of the ACJA.

He, however, noted that the case was not merely about the refund of the N650m, but about the source of the money and the manner it was handled, adding that already the EFCC had recovered the N650m.

At the resumed proceedings on Thursday, however, Omenwa, who appeared for the EFCC, told the court that he was instructed to reject the settlement terms proposed by the defendants because they did not comply with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act on plea bargain.

He said the anti-graft agency would be opting for a full trial.

“I have instruction to reject the proposal as it is not in line with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.

“Based on that, we’re ready to go on with the trial, subject to Your Lordship’s overriding convenience,” Omenwa said.

But Akinjide’s lawyer, Ayorinde, and the counsel for the second defendant, Mr. Michael Lana, accused Oyedepo of breach of agreement.

Ayorinde said the defendants made a proposal to the prosecution in line with Section 14 of the EFCC Act.

“For the purposes of Your Lordship’s record and because of the public interest that this case seems to unnecessarily attract, our proposal was made in accordance with established laws and there is no fixation on Section 270 of the ACJA.

“We’re very confident that this case is a sham and we’ll defend it vigorously. It’s political and we’ll show that it’s unnecessary and a waste of time and resources of the court,” Ayorinde said.

On his part, Lana accused Oyedepo of betrayal, saying his client was made to withdraw a civil suit against the EFCC and Oyedepo, on the understanding that parties would explore out-of-court settlement in the N650m criminal case.

“Their refusal to consider the terms of settlement is, to say the least, a betrayal of trust by a lawyer — a representation as made to us that we should withdraw a civil suit we filed. Oyedepo is the first defendant in the suit.

“He made a proposal to us which we believed. On the day of the first arraignment in Ibadan, Oyedepo and Chief Ayorinde informed the court that they had agreed to settle. But the judge decided that the defendants should be arraigned while the talks continued.

“We withdrew the suit and the money they requested was paid. That’s why we were surprised when we received a hearing notice. A lawyer’s words should be sacrosanct. That’s an abuse of office. Oyedepo was the initiator of the settlement. That’s like 419. We’re highly disappointed with Oyedepo,” Lana said.

But Omenwa said there was no documentary evidence to support the claim by the defence counsel, adding that the EFCC was independent and that the case was not politically-motivated.

“There is no documentary evidence that they had any such agreement with Oyedepo that they should withdraw their suit. There’s no evidence before My Lord,” he said.

In a short ruling, Justice Hassan said since settlement talks had “broken down,” the EFCC was at liberty to call its first witness.

Trial began immediately with Omenwa calling the first witness, Kehinde Adeniyi, who introduced herself as the Head of Customer Relations at the Dugbe, Ibadan branch of Fidelity Bank.

Asked if she knew Akinjide and Adeseun, the banker answered in the affirmative but said she had never met Otiti before.

Asked to narrate her connection with them, she said, “On March 26, 2018, I received a call from our Head of Operations, Mr. Martins Izuegbe, that we should pay the sum of N650m to Akinjide, Adeseun and Honourable Taiwo Yinka once they produce two means of identification and sign a receipt of payment.

“They came, signed and the payment was made. The payment was in naira. They came with their Hilux van and bus to pick up the cash.”

The receipt of payment was tendered as exhibit in evidence against the defendants.

Under cross-examination by Akinjide’s lawyer, Ayorinde, the banker said she made three statements at the EFCC, which were also tendered in evidence.

Adeniyi said she merely carried out the instructions she was given, adding that she did not know the source of the funds.

She added that the name Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke was familiar to her, adding that she did not know how the money was used.

Justice Hassan adjourned further proceedings till March 8 and 9, 2018.

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