Why judge convicted Olisa Metuh for money laundering, other crimes

Olisa Metuh (Photo Credit: Punch)

The Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday found a former spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, guilty of a seven-count charge of laundering N400 million.

Justice Okon Abang who delivered the judgement, which lasted for about five hours, found Mr Metuh guilty in a trial that started in 2016.

Mr Metuh was arrested on January 5, 2015, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

He was arraigned by the anti-graft agency alongside his company, Destra Investment, on an amended seven-count charge of diversion of the money received when Sambo Dasuki who was the National Security Adviser.

PREMIUM TIMES had reported, in April last year, how Mr Metuh told the court that the N400 million was spent on a “special national assignment.”

Apart from the N400 million, which he was accused of laundering, the former PDP spokesperson was also accused of transacting with the sum of $2 million without going through a financial institution, in violation of a provision of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.

The defendants had on February 18, 2016, pleaded not guilty to all the counts.

In the course of the trial, the prosecution called eight witnesses while the first defendant (Mr Metuh) called 14 witnesses and himself as the fifteenth witness, while the second defendant called one witness.

Metuh’s defence

In defending himself, Mr Metuh tried to call two key witnesses: a former president, Goodluck Jonathan, and Mr Dasuki. His legal team believed the statement of either or both witnesses would vindicate him.

The former PDP spokesperson said Mr Jonathan was the one who, as president, authorised the NSA to give out the contract, although this was when Mr Jonathan himself was running for reelection.

Mr Dasuki, as the NSA, was supposed to testify in favour of Mr Metuh by confirming that the contract was legally awarded and payment made. He was to also confirm that the contract was executed based on its terms.

But Mr Dasuki was himself enmeshed in a matter with the State Security Service, the domestic intelligence outfit whose agents arrested the former NSA in December 2015 and kept him in custody for several years until December 2019.

Mr Dasuki had been facing charges of illegal possession of arms with the SSS. But despite several court orders, the agency declined to release Mr Dasuki, citing national security implications.

In a case of civil disobedience to force compliance with his fundamental rights, Mr Dasuki withdrew his participation in the trial until SSS had complied with the court order to free him on bail.

The stalemate made it difficult for Mr Dasuki to stand as a witness for Mr Metuh for nearly two years. When he eventually testified in November 2017, while still in custody of the SSS, Mr Dasuki said he would not be able to confirm or deny anything relating to Mr Metuh’s case unless he had access to his own records.

On the same day, Justice Abang scoffed at the defence team’s attempt to persuade the court to adjourn hearing in Mr Metuh’s matter until Mr Dasuki regained freedom from the SSS and laid hands on his records.

Earlier in October 2017, the trial had dominated headlines after Mr Metuh tried to get the court to compel Mr Jonathan to testify in the matter, insisting the former president’s appearance in the witness box was essential for his extrication.

On October 27, Mr Abang ordered Mr Jonathan to appear before the court for his testimony, signing a subpoena to be served on the former president.

For several months, however, efforts to get the former president to appear in court proved impossible. Mr Jonathan did not appear in court throughout the trial.

In December 2019, both prosecution and defence teams concluded their filings before the court, prompting the judge to fix February 25 for ruling.

Conviction

In his judgement on Tuesday, Justice Abang found Mr Metuh guilty and convicted him of all the seven charges filed against him by the EFCC.

On count one, “It is my view that Metuh took possession of the N400 million from the office of the NSA without contractual agreement; he is guilty of money laundering and is hereby convicted on count one.”

On count two, the court found the former PDP spokesperson, guilty of converting the N400 million which was meant for national security, to fund activities of the PDP.

Justice Abang further said that Mr Metuh also used the money to acquire a property at Banana Island in Lagos.

In his explanation, the judge noted that this was contrary to the e-payment mandate which stated that the money was meant for security services, whereas Dextra Investment was not a registered security outfit.

He insisted that the evidence before the court pointed out the fact that the money was deliberately laundered to support the PDP during the 2015 general elections in the country.

The judge said that Mr Metuh failed to explain the transfer of N50 million from the N400 million to the joint account of himself and his wife

“It is, therefore, manifestly clear that the defendant converted the money for PDP campaign activities and I find him guilty and is hereby convicted accordingly,” the judge declared.

On count three which bordered on concealment of funds, Justice Abang held that the e-payment mandate showed that the money was released for security services but was concealed and used for PDP campaign activities and personal use.

“I hereby find him guilty and convicted on count three,” Mr Abang ruled.

On count four, which bordered on the allegation of illegal disbursement of funds, the judge said the prosecution placed credible evidence before the court, which showed some of the unlawful acts of Mr Dasuki as the NSA while in office.

According to the judge, “The first defendant was desirous of repositioning the PDP and he deployed the funds for that purpose and personal use.”

Mr Abang also noted that the meeting wherein Mr Jonathan allegedly authorised the payment was tagged a ‘security meeting’.

The judge said he wondered why only the former NSA and top PDP officials attended the meeting, yet Mr Metuh claimed the money was expended on special national assignment.

Mr Abang stressed that the first defendant was not a witness of truth.

In furtherance, he said, “I agree with the prosecution that Metuh’s claims are tissues of lies hurriedly put in place to divert the attention of the court from prying into the disbursement of the N400 million received from the office of the NSA through an under the table agreement.

“It is a case of public funds filtering into private hands for selfish reasons.”

The judge then held that the N400 million was never released for a special national assignment based on the evidence before him.

“Therefore, I find the first and second defendants guilty on count four,” he ruled.

In his judgement, Justice Abang said he has considered the arguments of the defendants on counts five and six which deal with making cash transactions above the statutory threshold of N5 million for individuals and N10 million for corporate bodies.

He said, “I agree with the prosecution that the defendants committed the offence by handing over raw cash of $2 million dollars to a Bureau de Change (BDC) operator to change same into naira.

“From the evidence placed before me, the BDC is not even a registered operator. The transaction is, therefore, undocumented and runs contrary to the Anti-Money Laundering Act.”

“I agree with the prosecution that the $2 million and part of the N400 million received from the office of the NSA was used to acquire properties in Lagos,” he added.

According to Justice Abang, the transaction as regards counts five and six was clearly in excess of the statutory threshold, whether the money belonged to the defendants or not, and Mr Metuh failed in his defence to disclose the source of the $2 million.

“I hereby find the first and second defendants guilty on counts five and six,” he held.

On the count seventh of the charges which bordered on the transfer of funds to a PDP official, Tony Anineh, the judge held that the transfer of N21.7 million to Mr Anenih for a special national assignment directly represented the illicit nature of the fund.

“I have again considered the position of the prosecution and found that the prosecution proved the transfer of N27.7 million to Chief Anthony Anenih, and I hereby find the first and second defendants guilty on count seven and are hereby convicted,” the judge ruled.

The judge was yet to sentence Mr Metuh at the time of this report.

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