BY OLUGBENGA SOYELE, Lagos
The Lagos State Division of the Court of Appeal yesterday set aside the guilty pleas of four companies allegedly used by former Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs to President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamo-Owei Emmanuel Dudafa to launder the sum of $15.591 million.
The appellate court voided the guilty pleas and the convictions of the companies by Justice Babs Kuewumi of the Federal High Court in Lagos on the ground that the convictions of the four companies were done in gross disregard of statutory and constitutional provisions.
The companies: Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development & Investment Co. Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Development Company Limited had pleaded guilty to 15 count amended charge brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that the sum involved in the case is the same money which former First Lady, Patience Jonathan claimed belongs to her as the sole signatory to the accounts of the companies, she, however, denied ownership of the companies.
Mrs. Jonathan had also in September 7, 2016 filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit before the Federal High Court in Lagos asked among other things that the court should compel the EFCC to immediately remove the ‘No Debit Order’ placed on the accounts.
The anti-graft agency had in August 2016 charged Dudafa alongside a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs, a Skye Bank Official, Demola Bolodeoku, and the four limited liability companies on a 17 count-charge charge of conspiracy, stealing and money laundering.
According to the EFCC the accused persons had between November 13, 2013, and May 28, 2015, conspired among themselves to conceal the total sum of $15. 592,700 million USD, which they know to form part of the proceeds of an unlawful act, through various bank in Nigeria.
The anti-graft agency also alleged that the accused persons committed the fraud with one Sombre Omeibi, now at large, through accounts number 2110002269, 2110002238, 2110002245, 210002252, 2110002207, 2110002269 and 0122493290, domiciled in Skye Bank Plc.
The Offences according to the commission are contrary to section 18(a) and 15(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012, and punishable Under Section 15(3) of the same Act.
The EFCC specifically accused Dudafa to have used the companies, which he allegedly incorporated through proxies, to perpetrate fraud.
But on September 15 the four companies through their respective solicitors change their plea and they were thereby convicted by the court.
The guilty plea was entered on behalf Pluto, Seagate, Trans Ocean and Avalon by one Friday Davies, Agbo Baro, Bioghowri Frederick and Taiwo Ebenezer, respectively.
But after the guilty plea, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) announced his appearance for the convicted companies, challenged their pleas of guilt and convictions by the lower court.
Justice Kuewumi, however, refused to set aside the conviction. That decision was appealed by the lawyer.
In its judgement delivered via Zoom on Friday the upper court held that the convictions of the four companies breached the fair hearing provisions of the constitution.
The lead judgement was read by Hon. Justice C. N. Uwa, Justices Tunde Awotoye and Abundaga agreed with the lead judgment.