From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday struck out one of the nine counts of $1.6billion crude oil fraud filed against the businessman, Jide Omokore, and five others by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
This was a sequel to an application by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke, who alleged that she was not accorded the opportunity to defend herself after being indicted in the particular count. Others facing trial for the alleged crime include Omokore, his two companies, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited. Others are a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Victor Briggs; a former group executive director, exploration and production of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Abiye Membere and a former manager, planning and commercial of the NNPC, David Mbanefo.
The anti-graft agency had preferred nine counts of criminal diversion of about $1.6billion alleged to be part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government, against the six defendants.
Allison-Madueke, who was said to be currently in the United Kingdom facing some legal proceedings, was not listed among the existing six defendants in the case to defend the charge, but she was, together with Briggs, Membere and Mbanefo, in count eight, accused of aiding Omokore in the commission of money laundering offence.
The offence she and others were accused of was said to be contrary to section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended and punishable under section 15 (3) of the same Act.
But the former minister, through her lawyer, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), on September 18, 2017, filed an application seeking among other prayers, an order directing an amendment to the charges, by adding her name as the seventh defendant to enable her to defend herself with respect to the eighth count.
She also told the judge that she would be grossly prejudiced by a refusal of the application, which would further compound the gross violation of her constitutional rights.
Opposing the application, lawyer for the EFCC, Mr Aliyu Yusuf, urged the court to refuse Diezani’s application seeking to be joined as a defendant. He said that Diezani, who is on self-exile, is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police for several crimes and has been admitted to bail in the United Kingdom but cannot leave the country.
Yusuf said: “The applicant seeing that the investigations by the Metropolitan Police had reached the advanced stage and that trial in the instant charge before this honourable court is proceeding smoothly had designed the instant application to distract and scuttle both her investigation and imminent prosecution in the United Kingdom and the trial before this court.”
He also argued that Diezani knew she would not be able to leave the United Kingdom in view of the ongoing investigation and imminent prosecution. Therefore, she is seeking the order to amend the charge for her name to be included on the face of the charge in order “to escape from investigation and prosecution in the United Kingdom under the guise that she is coming to face her trial before this court and also scuttle the trial.”
In his ruling, Justice Dimgba ruled that the EFCC could not have its cake and eat it because by including Diezani’s name in count eight, the commission ought to make her one of the defendants.
“It looks like blackmail,” the judge said and added that the court had no option than to strike out count eight of the charge, where Diezani’s name was mentioned. He adjourned trial of the substantive matter till October 5 and 6, 2017. (The Sun)