Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Jumoke Akinjide, who was charged with N650million fraud, has expressed her intention to enter into a plea bargain with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Akinjide alongside Senator Ayo Adeseun and a Peoples Democratic (PDP) stalwart, Chief Olanrewaju Otiti, had been 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.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge preferred against them.
At the resumed hearing on Monday, February 5, 2018, the second defendant, Adeseun, through his counsel, Michael F. Lana, raised a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to try him.
Lana had told the court that he had two applications, one seeking the court to strike out the criminal charges against his client as a result of non-service by the prosecution and the other challenging the jurisdiction of the court to try him on the money laundering charge.
“My Lord, our first application is dated April 7, 2017, seeking your Lordship’s order to strike out the criminal charge therein. It is supported by an 11-paragraph affidavit.
“Prosecution starts from arraignment of the defendants. But where there is no service, all actions taken in the proceedings become a nullity. Section 382 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, says that it is the court that should serve the charge through the bailiff and not the prosecutor.
“Section 382 of the ACJA states the procedure of bringing the accused before the court for trial, which is that he or she must be served with a notice of the court for trial.
“The fact that the party that ought to be served appears in court does not cure the non-service,” Lana had submitted.
He had further pleaded that there was no competent charge against his client, adding that “no trial can commence.”
While addressing the second application challenging the court’s jurisdiction to try his client, Lana had said that “once the charge has nothing to do with Section 251 of the Constitution, the Federal High Court does not have jurisdiction over it.
“None of the 24 counts as listed in the charge relates to items listed under Section 251 of the Constitution upon which the Federal High Court can adjudicate. Section 20 of the Money Laundering Act is limited by the provisions of Section 251 of the Constitution. We, therefore, urge my Lord to grant these applications.”
Counsel to the first defendant, Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN, as well as counsel to the third defendant, Akinola Oladeji, had also aligned with the submissions of the counsel to the second defendant.
Both counsel had submitted that if the procedures were not adhered to, the charge should be struck out.
Also, Oladeji, counsel to the third defendant, had submitted that the issue was a “jurisdictional one, which commenced on a faulty process.
“The prosecution has attempted to build a 24-storey building with no foundation. I urge your Lordship to allow the application of the second defendant.”
However, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, while addressing the issue of non-service, had opposed the objections raised by the defendants, saying that “First of all, my Lord, we are building something on something.
“We filed a counter- affidavit dated 9th May, 2017. We also referred the court to our written address dated 5th May, 2017 and we adopted same in urging the court to refuse the application”.
Rotimi had also argued that Section 382 of the ACJA does not affect the validity of a charge, adding that “It merely provides for requisites notices to be issued by the trial court on the defendant upon the assignment of the charge within 10 days.
“The subsequent assignment of this case to this court and pursuant to the notices issued by this court to parties is not only a substantial compliance with Section 382 of the ACJA, but has also rendered the motion academic.
“I urge the court to consider the motion with the substantive issue raised in our charge and deliver ruling on the motion in the course of judgment in the matter pursuant to Section 396 (2) of the ACJA.”
Rotimi had further submitted that the essence of the notice was to allow parties to be aware of the pendency of the charge to the defence.
Consequently, Justice Hassan had reserved ruling on the applications filed by counsel to the second defendant and fixed January 6, 2018(today) for commencement of trial.
However, at today’ sitting, Ayorinde told the court that arrangement was being made for the refund of the N650m.
Ayorinde further told the court that his client intended to explore an amicable settlement of the case with the EFCC.
He said: “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.”
Ayorinde also sought an adjournment to allow the parties to discuss.
In his response, the prosecution counsel, Oyedepo confirmed that Ayorinde had approached him for settlement.
He, however, emphasized that the case before the court was not merely about the funds, as the EFCC had already recovered the N650m.
Oyedepo said: “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.”
Oyedepo also drew the attention of the court to the fact that the prosecution was ready to open its case as it had a witness in court.
Counsel to the second and third defendants, who submitted that they were not privy to the arrangement for settlement, did not oppose the prayer for an adjournment.
Consequently, Justice Hassan adjourned the case to February 22, 2018 to enable the parties involved discuss in line with the Section 270 of the ACJA.