SERAP says plea bargain was structured to favour the rich.
Anti-corruption group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has said it was holding the Jonathan administration responsible for the controversial court ruling that freed a former government deputy director convicted of stealing N2 billion of police pension savings.
A questionable plea bargain allowed Yakubu Yusuf, tried alongside five others, return a token of his loot, pay a meager N750,000 as fine, to evade a maximum two year-term for the crime.
The ruling, delivered by an Abuja High Court judge, Abubakar Talba, sparked calls for reviews of the penal and criminal laws, cited in the judgment. The House of Representatives has vowed the review the legislations.
Critics have also urged sanctions against the judge, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for negotiating the plea bargain that gave rise to the ruling.
Mr. Yusuf has been re-arraigned for fresh charges, this time, before a federal court.
The anti-corruption group, SERAP, said the blame for the woeful verdict should be directed at the government that failed to effect needed reviews on the nation’s criminal laws.
“The government of President Goodluck Jonathan should bear responsibility for the judgment delivered last week by Justice Abdulsalam Talba,” SERAP said in a statement signed by its Executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni.
The group said the judgment illustrates a “systemic problem” associated with the government’s anti-corruption effort.
“There is now an urgent need for a root-and-branch reform of the plea bargaining procedure and demonstration of strong political will to fight corruption fairly if we are to permanently remove this kind of judgment from our legal lexicon,” the statement said.
SERAP argued that even without an option of fine, the two-year jail term, stipulated by the penal code, under which Mr. Yusuf was tried, would be insufficient for the crime.
The group also faulted the controversial plea bargain repeatedly deployed by the EFCC in high profile corruption trials.
“At the moment, plea bargaining only tends to serve the interest of the corrupt public officials who continue to profit from their crimes and ill-gotten wealth,” SERAP said. “Plea bargaining cases such as those involving Tafa Balogun, Lucky Igbinedion and Diespreye Alamieyeseigha and Yakubu Yusuf among others are “a law unto themselves.”