The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Maitama, Abuja, on Tuesday dismissed corruption charges involving alleged mismanagement of about N115m public fund preferred against the suspended Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission, Mounir Gwarzo; and a commissioner of the commission, Zakwanu Garuba.
The then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had, in November 2017, suspended Gwarzo over allegations of financial impropriety, part of which formed the basis for the charges preferred against him and Garuba.
But, Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf, in a ruling on Thursday, discharged and acquitted both Gwarzo and Garuba of the charges in all the five counts preferred against them by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission.
The judge upheld the defendants’ no-case submission by dismissing the case mid-way into trial, as he held that the prosecution failed to lead credible evidence to warrant the two men to open their defence.
According to the judge, the SEC Board had, by its resolution, approved the payments which the prosecution had alleged to be illegal and dishonest.
He noted that by virtue of the Investments and Securities Act, the resolution by the SEC’s Board was not subject to a review by any person or authority.
Ruling separately on each of the five counts, three of which related to Gwarzo and two others to Garuba, the judge held, “No prima facie case has been made out by the prosecution in this count, the defendant is hereby discharged and acquitted on this count.”
The judge repeated the same line in his pronouncements on each of the five counts.
The ICPC had filed five counts accusing Gawarzo of receiving between May and June 2015 the sum of N104,851,154.94 as severance benefit when he had yet to retire, resign or disengage from service; and also the sum of N10,983,488.88 as car grant” he was not entitled to.
The ICPC had, in two of the five counts, accused Garuba, a former Executive Commissioner, Corporate Services of SEC, of conferring corrupt advantage on another public officer in the person of Gwarzo by approving the payments to the suspended SEC boss.
Accusing them of “criminal breach of trust” by “dishonestly misappropriating” public funds entrusted to them, conferring corrupt advantage on Gwarzo, the ICPC accused them of violating provisions of Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 and section 312 of the Penal Code Cap 532 Vol. 4 of FCT, Abuja, 2007.
They both pleaded not guilty to the charges following which the prosecution called five witnesses to prove its case.
Upon the completion of the prosecution’s case, the defendants, through their lawyers — Mr. Abdulhakeem Mustapha (SAN) and Robert Emukpoeruo — filed their no-case submissions, insisting that the prosecution had failed to make out a prima facie case against them warranting them to open their defence.
Ruling on Thursday, Justice Baba-Yusuf upheld their no-case submissions, as he held that they had no case to answer, given that the evidence of the prosecution was contradictory and manifestly discredited under cross-examination.
“There is no evidence that the 1st defendant (Gwarzo) used his officer to confer advantage on himself,” the judge ruled, adding that “the evidence of criminal breach of trust was not established and the evidence of the witnesses was discredited under cross-examination”.
The judge held that the evidence led by the prosecution showed that the N115m severance allowance made to Gwarzo followed his elevation from the position of a Commissioner of the commission to the status of the Director-General and in line with a resolution made by the SEC board on July 11, 2002.
The judge dismissed the argument by the prosecution that the severance allowance paid to Gwarzo was in excess of what was provided for in the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances ETC) Act, 2002.
Justice Baba-Yusuf ruled that it was clear that the provision of the law, which was tendered and admitted as ‘Exhibit ICPC 19’ during trial, was not applicable to SEC.
He added that the public officers to whom the law was applicable were clearly stated in it.
The judge held, “Certainly SEC was in existence when the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances ETC) Act was was passed by the National Assembly.
“If it was meant to be applicable to SEC, the lawmakers would have clearly stated it.”
According to him, the emphasis by the prosecutor, Mr. Raheem Adesina, on the ‘Exhibit ICPC 19’ was in ignorance of the powers of the highest decision-making organ of the SEC, the board, and failed consider the provisions of the Investments and Securities Acts.
He added that anchoring the case on the law, therefore, “is without basis and thus amounts to blowing a muted trumpet.”
He added that the evidence of the first prosecution witness, who was an officer of the legal department of SEC conflicted with evidence of the third and fourth prosecution witness.
He noted that the first prosecution witness agreed that the payment made to Gwarzo was based on a board resolution, and was therefore correct, since the board was the highest-decision making body of the commission.
“The payment was alleged to have been made without authority, but it turned out to have been made upon a resolution of the board of SEC, which is the highest decision making body,” the judge added.
Concerning the alleged dishonest N10m car grant, the judge ruled there there was evidence showing that it was part of Gwarzo’s entitlement, adding, the prosecution failed to prove that Gwarzo “was instrumental or played active roles in the preparation for the voucher for the payment”.