The lawyer representing Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, a former aide to ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, on Friday told a federal court that no government agency had come forward to claim ownership of the $15.5 million for which his client is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Gboyega Oyewole said the former first lady, Patience Jonathan, had continued to lay claim to the money, even filing a fundamental rights enforcement suit before a court.
“Neither the Federal Government nor any of its agencies; neither any state nor its agencies have claimed the fund as their own or that it was stolen from them,” said Mr. Oyewole.
The money, which the EFCC had since frozen in four Skye Bank accounts, was opened in the name of the companies – Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development & Investment Co. Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Avalon Global Property Development Company Limited.
The companies were arraigned alongside Mr. Dudafa, who served as Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to Mr. Jonathan; Amajuoyi Briggs, a former presidential aide; and Adedamola Bolodeoku, a former Skye Bank official for money laundering, stealing, forgery, and conspiracy before Justice Babs Kuewunmi of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
In a dramatic twist on the day of arraignment, last month, all the companies pleaded guilty to the 15-count charge.
Messrs Dudafa, Briggs, and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty before the judge.
The judge had adjourned to September 27 for the EFCC to review the facts of the case before he would determine the fate of the companies.
But on the date, Mr. Oyewole and Tochukwu Onyiuke, counsel to Mr. Briggs, appeared in court with two separate applications, urging the court to change the plea of the four companies from guilty to not guilty.
Mr. Oyewole said there was no document before the court to prove that the four people who had pleaded guilty on behalf of the companies were authorised to take the plea, adding that they had in their statement to the EFCC stated that they were neither directors of the companies nor had anything to do with the companies.
He also said in the face of Mrs. Jonathan’s claim over the money, allowing the guilty plea by the four companies and convicting them of money laundering charges would amount to “a gross abuse of the judicial process and an attack on the principle of fairness and justice.”
Mr. Oyewole said his client was afraid that the guilty plea entered by the four companies would adversely affect him since the proceedings were joint proceedings and the first count bordered on conspiracy.
On his own part, Mr. Onyiuke challenged the jurisdiction and competence of the judge to even entertain the arraignment of the four companies in the first place.
“The condition precedent to this honourable court assuming jurisdiction, to wit: authority to represent the 4th to 7th defendants by their purported representatives further to Section 477(3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, was completely lacking,” said Mr. Onyiuke.
He said accepting the guilty plea of the companies who admitted that they conspired with his client to launder the money would be a miscarriage of justice against his client.
But the EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to throw out the two applications, which he described as an abuse of court processes.
He argued that it was too late for Mr. Briggs to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charges after the defendants had already submitted themselves and had been arraigned.
He also pointed the attention of the court to the statements of accounts from Skye Bank where the $15.5 million was kept, showing that those who took the plea on the companies’ behalf were the authorised persons with the mandate to operate the accounts.
He said the accounts were opened pursuant to documents from the Corporate Affairs Commission where they were registered as directors in the companies.
“The prima facie evidence before Your Lordship is that those who appeared before Your Lordship are the directors of the 4th to 7th defendants,” said Mr. Oyedepo.
In his ruling on Friday, Justice Kuewumi dismissed the applications brought by Messrs Dudafa and Briggs, describing them as an abuse of court process.
The judge noted that Mr. Dudafa had already gone before the Court of Appeal to challenge the guilty plea entered by the four companies and, as a result, he could no longer take a decision on the issue.
“Once an issue is pending in the Court of Appeal, it will be inappropriate for a lower court to pronounce anything on the same issue,” Mr. Kuewunmi said.
The instant application constitutes an abuse of court process; same is hereby dismissed.”
The judge adjourned till November 2, 2016 for the EFCC to open its case.