The EFCC was accused of a shoddy investigation.
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Thursday acquitted and discharged former Works Minister, Hassan Lawal, and a former bank official, Adesanya Adewale, from an eight-count charge bordering on conspiracy and corruption to the tune of N43 million slammed on them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The trial judge, Adamu Bello, in his judgement, however, chided the anti-graft agency for a shoddy investigation.
Messrs Lawal and Adesanya had earlier pleaded not guilty when the charge was read to them, and consequently brought a no case submission after the prosecution had closed its case.
While ruling on the no case submission, Mr. Bello held that the prosecution failed to prove the essential ingredients of money laundering before the court adding that the EFCC did not present any evidence to prove that the transferred funds were derived from illegal and corrupt proceeds.
“Prosecution failed to prove that the money in question was derived from illegal source, even when the accused gave the prosecution a lead that he got the money from other transactions, such as the sales of his assets, the prosecution did not bother to ask whether the transaction is real or not,” he said.
Dismissing the counts of conspiracy, the court held that having failed to prove that money transferred was illegally and unlawfully sourced, it cannot be proved that there was conspiracy between the first and second accused persons.
He also held that the charge of conspiracy to launder money failed in its entirety stating that from the exhibits before the court, there was nothing like conspiracy.
Justice Bello also held that the second accused was an official of the bank and he was at the time doing his official duty and that he could not be stated that he conspired to launder fund meant for the execution of a contract.
According to Mr. Bello “Since the charge was in respect of the contract awarded by the Ministry of Works and Housing and deposits being alleged were made before the first accused became the Minister of Works, it could not be said that such deposits were from illegal proceeds.”
He also said, “What now remains, having failed to prove money laundering and conspiracy as preferred in the charge, the accused persons are discharged of the charge and acquitted.”
The EFCC accused Mr. Lawal of misappropriation of funds meant for the rehabilitation of the Guto-Bagana Bridge across River Benue while, Mr. Adewale, an ex-staff of a bank, was alleged to have assisted in laundering the money.
Counsel to Mr. Lawal, Ibrahim Ishaku, had insisted that the deposits in question were genuine transactions made by his client as payment for a housing loan procured from the bank. He urged the court to rule that Mr. Lawal had no case to answer, saying that the charge did not link him directly or indirectly to the allegation.
“My lord, this is a mere allegation which to me was brought about by the new political leaning of my client. In fact, Mr. Lawal did not launder any money or misappropriate monies made for the contract he supervised,” he said.
The lawyer’s claim has been stated by supporters of Mr. Lawal, a former member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, who have argued that the former minister is being persecuted for joining the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.
Counsel to the EFCC, Wahab Shittu, had told the court that the accused used Mr. Adewale, an ex-staff of a bank to launder the money. He explained that the action contravened the Money Laundering Act 2004.
Mr. Shittu had also submitted that the anti-graft body had charged the ex-Minister and Mr. Adewale for illegally moving monies that were not traceable to any source. He added that all the prosecution witnesses earlier testified that the deposits were made in three transactions of 3, 4 and 8.9 million naira at different times.
The counsel further submitted that one of the witnesses had shown to the court how the ex-minister conspired with Mr. Adewale to effect other transactions of N15 million and N12.5 million. He argued that the transactions were made to be concealed from the public, adding that the motion of no case should be dismissed.