Alleged $9.8m fraud: Court refuses to stop ex-NNPC GMD’s trial

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The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday, declined to stop further proceedings in the trial of former General Managing Director (GMD), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu, over alleged 9.8 million dollars money laundering.

Justice Ahmed Mohammed, in a ruling, held that although both parties had filed appeals before the Supreme Court, whose outcome would likely impact the case before him, he was constrained by virtue of Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to continue with the case as ordered by the Court of Appeal

Justice Mohammed noted that the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA and the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Olisa Metuh and the Federal Republic of Nigeria had effectively outlawed the grant of stay of proceedings in criminal cases on grounds of the filing of an interlocutory appeal.

The judge held that although both parties in the case were dissatisfied with the April 24 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja and had since appealed the decision, the court could not do otherwise but to comply with the provisions of the law.

Mohammed adjourned the case until July 8 for the defendant to enter his defence in respect of count three and four, which were now left in the original six-count charge brought against him by the EFCC.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Yakubu was arraigned on March 16, 2017 on six counts of failure to make full disclosure of assets, receiving cash without going through a financial institution, which borders on money laundering and intent to avoid a lawful transaction under law, transported at various times to Kaduna, 9,772,800 dollars and 74,000 pounds.

The EFCC alleged the money was recovered by its agents from a safe allegedly hidden by the defendant in a house in a community in Kaduna State.

On Oct. 17, 2018 the prosecution closed its case after calling its 17th witness, Suleiman Mohammed (an EFCC operative), who gave evidence regarding how the commission’s officials, on Feb. 3, 2017, recovered 9,772,000 dollars and 74,000 pounds stashed in a huge fire proof safe in a building belonging to the defendant, located at Sabon Tasha area of Kaduna State.

At the close of prosecution, the defendant made a no-case submission, which Justice Mohammed partially upheld in a ruling on May 16, 2019.

The judge struck out two of the six counts contained in the charge and ordered Yakubu to enter defence in relation to the remaining four counts
Justice Mohammed said: “I agree with the defence counsel that the prosecution had failed to prove the essential element of transportation of money on counts five and six. I accordingly discharge the defendant on counts five and six.

“Even though I am tempted to discharge the defendant on counts one to four, I am, however, constrained to ask the defendant to explain how he came about the monies recovered from his house.

“Fortified with my position, the defendant is hereby ordered to enter his defence in respect of count one to four.u appealed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja.

In a judgment on April 24, the Court of Appeal partially upheld Yakubu’s appeal.

A three-member panel of the appellate court held, among others, that the prosecution was unable, by the evidence it led at the trial court, to establish a prima facie case against the defendant in relation to counts five and six.

The Court of Appeal then struck out count five and six from the charge and ordered the case be returned to the trial court for Yakubu to enter defence in respect of count three and four.

At the mention of the case on Wednesday, prosecution lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, said both parties had appealed to the Supreme Court, and that both appeals at the Supreme Court had been entered and briefs of argument filed.

Abubakar argued that the appeal by the defendant was marked: SC/CR/223/2020, while that of the prosecution was marked: SC/CR/241/2020.

“By the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA 2015 and the EFCC Establishment Act 2004, application for stay of prosecution shall not be entertained where there is an interlocutory appeal.

“However, in the instant case, whatever decision the Supreme Court might arrive at will affect this case in one way or the other.

“I am not making any application for stay of proceedings in view of the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA,” Abubakar said.

Responding, lead defence lawyer, Ahmed Raji, SAN, objected to the court staying proceedings in the case.
Raji referred to the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Metuh v. FRN case and said: “I am, therefore, not surprised when Mr Abubakar said he is not applying for stay of proceedings. I commend him.

“I would have loved to get a stay of proceedings, because my appeal has great chances of succeeding, which would have made it unnecessary for the defendant to enter defence in respect of the two remaining counts.

“Therefore, as a member of the Inner Bar, I owe it a duty to act, at all times, in accordance with the state of the law.

“We are, therefore, compelled to comply with the subsisting order of the Court of Appeal, mandating the defendant to state his side of the story in respect of count three and four,” Raji said.