EFCC gets nod to appeal ruling quashing charges against Jonathan’s cousin, wife

A Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday granted permission to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to appeal the March 29 ruling of the court, partially upholding the no-case submission of Robert Azibaola, a cousin to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba had in the ruling, fully upheld the no-case submission made by Azibaola’s wife, Stella and quashed the charge against her, but partially upheld the no-case submission by the husband and their firm, One Plus Holding Nigeria Limited.

The judge, in partially upholding the no-case submissions by Azibaola and One Plus, voided counts counts 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, leaving only two – counts 2 and 3 of the 9-count charge on which the three were arraigned in a charge filed in 2016.

The EFCC arraigned Azibaola, Stella and One Plus on a 9-count charge of conspiracy to covert money and money laundering.

They were accused of diverting the $40million they allegedly received from the Office of the National Security Adviser, which was meant for the purchase of tactical communication kits for special forces.

The three were said to have laundered the money by trading with the funds through bureau de change companies instead of deploying the money for the purpose it was intended.

At trial, the prosecution called a number of witnesses and closed its case, following which the defendants made a no-case submission.

In a ruling on March 29 this year, Justice Dimgba quashed the 8 counts relating to Stella, on the grounds that the prosecution could not lead evidence to support the counts.

On the part of Azibaola and One Plus, the judge partially upheld their no-case submission by quashing some counts, leaving counts 2 and 3 on which the two defendants were expected to enter defence.

Yesterday, prosecution lawyer, Sylvanus Tahir moved a motion for leave to appeal an aspect of the ruling on grounds other than law alone.

The prosecution attached its proposed notice of appeal to the motion.

Kanayo Okafor, who represented the defendants did not object to the prosecution’s motion, which the judge granted.

By yesterday’s development, the prosecution can proceed with its appeal.

The proposed notice of appeal sighted on Wednesday contained four grounds on which the prosecution faulted the March 29 ruling.

In ground one, the prosecution argued that the trial judge erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice when he upheld Azibaola and Stella’s no case submission on the charge of conspiracy to launder money without allowing the two defendants to lead evidence proving that they were couple of a Christian marriage.

It argued: “the trial court, without any shred of evidence placed before it, jumped into the conclusion that the 1st and 2nd respondents are husband and wife legally disabled from committing conspiracy with each other.

“The trial court made a case for the 1st and 2nd respondents without hearing evidence from them on their marital status.

“The trial court jettisoned the time honoured principle that, at the stage of no-case submission, the evidence of the prosecution witnesses should only raise a prima facie case, not that the court should evaluate the evidence as in the case of proof beyond reasonable doubt which comes later.”

The prosecution also faulted the trial judge for discharging Stella on the offence of “directly taking possession or control of the sum of $39.9m (contained in count 2) and directly converting the said sum, along with the 1st and 3rd respondents. (in count 3).

It argued that while the trial judge rightly held that Stella was a director of One Plus and a signatory to its account, went ahead to exonerate her “by speculating that she was probably charged because she is the spouse of the 1st defendant.”

The prosecution accused the trial judge of misdirecting himself in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice when he discharged the 1st and 3rd defendants on the charge of laundering the sum of, 650m (in count 7), the prosecution having  led credible evidence to show that the money was “used to buy a property – Plot 2245 Maitama Cadastra Zone No. A06 – in the name of the 3rd respondent.”

It argued that the decision of the trial judge “was unreasonable and unwarranted in the circumstances of this case.”

Follwoing the agreement by parties yesterday that the trail should continue on the remaining two counts despite the leave granted the prosecution to appeal, Justice Dimgba has adjourned to June 4 for  continuation of trial.

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