By Akin Kuponiyi
The trial of two former ministers, Nenadi Esther Usman (Finance) and Femi Fani-Kayode (Aviation) and one Danjuma Yusuf before a Federal High Court, in Lagos Southwest Nigeria Monday, failed to continue, due to the absence of Fani-kayode, the second accused in the alleged N4. 9 billion money laundering charge.
The accused and a limited liability company, Joint Trust Dimension Nigeria Limited, were arraigned before Justice Muslim Hassan by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on a 17-count charge of unlawful retention, unlawful use and unlawful payment of money to the tune of about N4.9 billion.
At the resumed trial today, Fani-Kayode’s Lawyer, Wale Balogun, told the court of his client’s absence, which he attributed to the flagrant disobedience of court’s order by the EFCC. Balogun said that he told the court on October 24, 2016, attempt by the anti-graft agency to arrest his client, which he said was denied by the prosecution.
He said it was unfortunate that the operatives of the Commission arrested his client, and when he met with the team leader and requested for his client’s warrant of arrest, he was told that it was an order from above. The arrest he said was carried out without any warrant of arrest.
“He was in the prosecution’s custody for 21 days, and later arraigned before Justice Tsoho, of an Abuja federal High Court,Federal Capital Territory on November 10, 2016, on a five count-charge.
“Though, we urged the court to let him enjoy the former bail conditions, and despite informing the court that he has to be before this court today for his trial, the court in its wisdom still imposed another conditions, and he has been transferred to Kuje Prisons, while both the family and friends are making frantic efforts to perfect his bail.”
In response, the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Oyedepo, confirmed that Fani-Kayode was arrested by operatives of the Commission outside the court premises at the last hearing of the matter. He disclosed that the arrest was in connection with another financial transaction.
Oyedepo said: “I also confirmed that he was arraigned before Justice Tsoho at an Abuja Federal High Court, in relation to certain financial transaction that does not have connections with the charge before this court.
“I do not see anything wrong in law or morality preventing the prosecution to prefer charges against him.
“In relation to the charge before this court, he never reported any infraction on his rights. The case before this court was committed and investigated in Lagos, before he was arraigned before this court.
“His subsequent arrest and detention was not intended to disobey the court order, but it was in the view to serve him with the charge for the purpose of arraigning him before another court. He was not arrested in connection with this case”.
After responding to the allegation, Oyedepo informed the court that “In view of the absence of Fani-Kayode, the trial will not likely go on despite having the four prosecution witnesses in court. He therefore urged the court for a very short adjournment.
Lawyers to other accused persons, Chief Ferdinand Orbih, and S. I. Ameh, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), did not opposed the adjournment.
Chief Ferdinand (SAN) particularly urged the court for a long adjournment, on the ground that they do not know how long it will take before Fani-Kayode, who is the second accused person, to meet the bail conditions in the new charge.
He also told the court of an application seeking the transfer of the charge to Abuja Division of Federal High Court. Though, he said the application is not ripe for hearing, and that same has been served on the prosecution.
But the prosecutor, Oyedepo, while urging the court not to concede to Chief Ferdinand’s application for long date, said the trial of accused person in criminal matter according to Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), should be day-to-day, and if there is reason for adjournment, such adjournment should not be more than 14 days.
The presiding judge, Muslim Hassan, adjourned the matter at the instance of the EFCC till December 12, 2016, for hearing of the pending application and continuation of trial.
Fani-Kayode, former Director of Media and Publicity in the campaign committee of ex President Goodluck Jonathan, was arraigned alongside a former Finance minister, Nenandi Usman, and one Danjuma Yusuf.
They all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In the charge, the accused persons were alleged to have committed the offences between January and March 2015.
In counts one to seven, they were alleged to have unlawfully retained over N3.8 billion which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act of stealing and corruption.
In counts Eight to 14, the accused were alleged to have unlawfully used over N970 million which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of an unlawful act of corruption.
In counts 15 to 17 Fani-Kayode, together with one Olubode Oke who is said to be at large, were alleged to have made cash payments of about N30 million, in excess of the amount allowed by law, without going through a financial institution.
Besides, Fani-Kayode was alleged to have made payments to one Paste Poster Company (PPC) of 125, Lewis Street, Lagos, in excess of amounts allowed by law.
The offences alleged to have been committed by the accused persons contravened the provisions of sections 15 (3) (4), 16 (2) (b), and 16 (5) of the Money laundering (prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.