Saturday , 15 June 2024

Money Laundering: Court dismisses SAN’s, ex-minister’s no-case submissions

High Court

The Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday dismissed a no-case submission made by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Mr Dele Belgore in a money laundering charge brought against him and a former National Planning Minister Prof Abubakar Suleiman.

Justice Rilwan Aikawa held that they had a case to answer.

He directed them to open their defence.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accused them of money laundering.

Former Petroleum Resources Minister Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke is also named in the charge.

EFCC said she is “at large”.

Belgore and Suleiman, through their counsel Mr Ebun Shofunde and Tunji Ayanlaja, both SANs, said the prosecution did not make out a prima facie case against them.

Suleiman aligned himself with Belgore’s no-case submission, urging the court to discharge and acquit them.

But EFCC counsel Rotimi Oyedepo urged the court to dismiss the no case submission.

He said: “Our case against the defendants is that they failed to follow the statutory banking procedure. The defendants by their status cannot say that they don’t know what conventional banking procedure is all about. They ought to be called upon to explain why they took possession of proceeds of unlawful activities.

“The evidence of the second prosecution witness, Usman Zakari, is not hearsay because he narrated what transpired during investigation of the case and this was corroborated by other documents, witness’ evidence and the unequivocal admission of the first defendant (Belgore)”.

Ruling, Justice Aikawa upheld the prosecution’s arguments, agreeing that a prima-facie case had been made out against the defendants.

“Consequently, I hereby overrule the no-case submission made by the learned senior advocate. The first and second defendants may therefore wish to enter their defence,” he held.

After the ruling, defence counsel Seni Adio (SAN), who stood in for Shofunde, said he had a pending application dated January 16 in which Belgore is praying the court to order the EFCC to produce all the statements he made.

But Oyedepo argued that the prosecution tendered all the statements Belgore made and had closed its case.

“All the statements were frontloaded by the defence. There was nothing the witness volunteered that was not tendered in court. This application is just designed to delay the opening of their defence,” he said.

Besides, he said the issue of incomplete statement was raised in the no-case submission, which had been decided. He said the prosecution having closed its cases, the application, filed since January, was therefore incompetent.

“The application is an abuse of court process and is incompetent. In view of the service of the application on me today (yesterday), I urge the court to strike it out,” Oyedepo prayed.

But, Adio insisted that the additional statements were needed to enable Belgore defend himself.

“The issue we have raised goes to the heart of our case. It is part of what the Constitution requires that they provide for the defence. The defendant knows how many statements he made. We need those statements to be complete and on record,” the SAN argued.

Justice Aikawa then directed Oyedepo to file a formal objection to the application to produce the additional statements.

He adjourned for hearing of the application.

In the nine-count amended charge, EFCC accused Alison-Madueke, Belgore and Suleiman of making cash payment of N10million to a Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Kwara State Dr Emmanuel Onucheyo.

The commission said they also paid N10million to a Commissioner of Police in the state Garba Saliu.

According to EFCC, they allegedly made the payments on March 27, 2015 without going through a financial institution.

The sums, the commission said, exceeded the amount authorised by law and violated Section 1(a) and Section 16 (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act of 2012 and punishable under Section 16 (2) (b).

The defendants were also accused in the amended charge of making cash payment of N61,656,000 to Isa Biu on the same day, exceeding what is authorised by law.

EFCC said they also paid N87,962,000 to Sola Adeoti and Hajiya Dankaka on the same day “without going through a financial institution.”

EFCC said they “directly took possession of the sum N450million,” adding that they “reasonably ought to have known [that the money] forms part of the proceeds of unlawful act.”

It also accused them of “indirectly” using the sum of N450million on March 27, 2015 and making cash payment of N450million, which exceeded the amount authorised by law.

According to the commission, Mrs Alison-Madueke, Belgore and Sulieman, on the same day, made cash payment of N50million to one Sheriff Shagaya, an amount exceeding what is authorised by law.

They pleaded not guilty.

Justice Rilwan Aikawa adjourned until April 30 for hearing.

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