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Thursday, February 22, 2018

N650m fraud: EFCC rejects ex-Minister Jumoke Akinjide’s proposal for settlement



The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Thursday, February 22, 2018, rejected a proposal by a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Olajumoke Akinjide, and two others.

Akinjide alongside Senator Ayo Adeseun and a Peoples Democratic (PDP) stalwart, Chief Olanrewaju Otiti, were re-arraigned before Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, on January 16, 2018, on an amended 24-count charge bordering on money laundering to the tune of N650m. 

They were alleged to have received the money from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison- Madueke, in the build-up to the 2015 general election. 

The money was part of the $115million allegedly disbursed by Madueke to influence the outcome of the 2015 presidential election. 

At the last adjourned sitting on February 6, 2018, counsel to the first defendant, Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN, had told the court that arrangement was being made for the refund of the N650m.

Ayorinde had further told the court that his client intended to explore an amicable settlement of the case with the EFCC, adding that "This matter is principally about the campaign funds of the 2015 elections in Oyo State and the people in the dock now were the principal hands that handled the funds.

“Consequently, the PDP in Oyo State has unanimously taken a decision to refund the total sum N650m. 

"In the light of the above, before the trial commences full-blown, we are imploring the court to allow parties to explore possible amicable settlement.”

In his response, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo confirmed that Ayorinde approached him for settlement. 

Oyedepo, however, emphasized that the case before the court was not merely about the funds, as the EFCC had already recovered the N650m.

"I confirm that the learned Senior Advocate had a brief discussion with me and the prosecuting team this morning. I will just like to straighten the issue by saying that the matter before the court is not principally about the campaign funds. If it is about the PDP (campaign) funds, Your Lordship will not find us before this court.

"The allegation is that the defendants dealt with proceeds of unlawful activities. I also confirm that the Commission has recovered the sum of N650m, not from the chieftains and principal members of the PDP, but from the first defendant (Akinjide).

"Section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act allows parties to discuss. So, in view of the fact that the learned Senior Advocate applied for discussion pursuant to Section 270, we will not be objecting to his application for a short adjournment to enable us to discuss settlement in line with the Act," he had said.

Oyedepo had further drawn the attention of the court to the fact that the prosecution was ready to open its case as it had a witness in court on that day.

Also, counsel to the second and third defendants, who told the court that they were not privy to the arrangement for settlement, did not oppose the prayer for adjournment during the proceedings.

Consequently, Justice Hassan had adjourned the case to February 22, 2018 to allow the parties to discuss in line with the Section 270 of the ACJA. 

At the resumed hearing today, the prosecution counsel, Nnaemeka Omewa, told the court that the Commission received the proposal from the defence team.

Omewa, however, added that the Commission rejected the proposal on the grounds that it was not in line with the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA. 

“My Lord, in view of the rejection of the proposal, the Commission is ready for the trial of the defendants, as it has a witness in court already.”

In his response, the defence team led by Ayorinde told the court that the first, second and third defendants made the proposal to the prosecution in line with Section 14 of the EFCC Act.

He, however, expressed surprise over the argument of the prosecution because “the proposal is in line with the law.”

Ayorinde also told the court that the matter was a political trial and that continuing with the trial would amount to “ waste of time.”

Also, counsel to the second defendant, Michael F. Lana, told the court that the rejection of the proposal by the EFCC was a betrayal of trust by the prosecution. 

Lana told the court that the lead prosecution counsel, Oyedepo, initiated the proposal for settlement to the defence team on the grounds that if the defendants paid the N650m to the Commission and withdraw the fundamental rights suit against the EFCC in Ibadan, he would also withdraw the criminal charge against the defendants.

“We agreed to this arrangement and the money was paid to the Commission,” he added. 
Lana, who also expressed his disappointment over Oyedepo’s position in the case, further stated that the court ruled that the defendants must be arraigned before the counsel could decide on the terms of settlement.

Meanwhile, counsel to the third defendant, Akiola Oladeji, told the court that they never entered into plea bargain with the prosecution but only made a proposal to compound the charges before court because of the agreement between the prosecution and the defense team. 

Oladeji also filed an application seeking the release of his client’s passport to enable him to travel abroad for medical check.

In his short ruling, the judge rejected the application on the grounds that it was not ripe for hearing.

In his response, Omewa told the court that there were no documentary evidence of agreement between the defence team and Oyedepo to withdraw any charge against the defendants. 

He further told the court that it was the defence team that made the proposal for settlement in the open court and not Oyedepo.

“When the lead prosecution counsel informed the Commission about the proposal, it was rejected.

“The EFCC is an independent organisation that works for the interest of every citizen of the country. It is not a political party set up to witch-hunt, as claimed by the defence,” he said.

Justice Hassan, after listing to both counsel, said he had no option but to allow the trial to continue, since the proposal could not scale through.

Consequently, Omewa called the prosecution witness, Adeniyi Kehinde, a staff of A new generation bank in Ibadan.

Adeniyi, in her testimony, told the court that she knew both the first and second defendants.
Giving further testimony, she said she received a call on March 26, 2015 from the Head of Operations of the Bank to pay the sum of N650m to Akinjide, Adeseun and one Hon. Taiwo Yinka. 

“Upon sending the payment receipt and true means of identification, the payment was made to them,” she explained.

Adeniyi told the court that the money was paid to the defendants in cash and that the money was carried in a Hilux truck and a bus.

When asked who received the money, the witness said the first defendant came with her aides, who collected the money on her behalf and subsequently carried the money into the vehicle.

Also, when asked if she could recognize the receipt of payment from the bank, she answered in the affirmative, adding that “ It bears the stamp of the bank , her signature and the time the money was paid to them.”

The payment receipt was tendered in evidence and admitted as exhibits D1-A, D1-B and D1-C.
After the conclusion of the testimony of PW1, the prosecution counsel moved an oral application for adjournment, which was granted by the court.

Justice Hassan adjourned the case to March 8 and 9, 2018 for commencement of trial.

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