The Federal High Court Abuja on Tuesday suspended the ongoing trial of Nicholas Ashinze until the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, puts its house in order.
Mr. Ashinze was an aide to former National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki.
At the resumed trial, counsel to Mr. Ashinze, Ernest Nwoye, protested a press statement issued by the EFCC, in which the defendant was reported to have been indicted by the court for diverting and misappropriating N36 billion.
He said that the EFCC statement also referred to Mr. Ashinze, who is still in service, as a retired officer.
The counsel, who drew the attention of Justice Gabriel Kolawole to what he described as an offending EFCC press statement, tendered the statement and the newspaper publications in court.
He said that the anti-graft agency had misrepresented the court proceeding of March 7.
Mr. Nwoye told the court that Mr. Ashinze was never charged by the EFCC for any offence of diversion and misappropriation of N36billion.
He wondered where the EFCC media team got its proceedings that the defendant had been indicted for the offence.
He urged the court to frown at the ‘media trial’ the defendant was being subjected to, as such action if not checked, would mislead the general public.
Justice Kolawole asked the EFCC counsel, Ofem Uket, if he was aware of the press statement and if he ever issued any.
Mr. Uket denied granting a press interview in respect of the trial, but admitted to receiving a letter of complaint from Mr. Nwoye.
He also said that he consulted with the EFCC and discovered that the statement was actually released to the media.
In his ruling, Mr. Kolawole said that it was unfair for the EFCC, as a complainant in the trial, to resort to self-help by engaging the defendant in a media trial and at the same time in a court trial.
“If you want to try the defendant in the media, you have to limit yourself to the media. You have to stop misleading the public in the facts of this trial.
“Let me say it for the sake of emphasis that EFCC must stop the use of journalists to distort proceedings in my court. You cannot be engaging in two trials, one in the court and one in the media, at the same time.
“If you are not satisfied with my decision to stop this trial pending the time the EFCC retracts this offending press statement of my court proceeding, then you can take your case to another court.
“This press statement by one Wilson Uwujaren, who claims to be from EFCC, is scandalous and prejudice to fair trial of the defendant in this matter.
“In order to prevent media and court trial at the same time with one misrepresenting the other, I have stopped this trial pending the time the EFCC retracts the offending press statement.
“The retraction has to be done between now and April 13, and this EFCC witness is hereby ordered to step down from the witness box and come back on April 13.”
The EFCC had arraigned Mr. Ashinze, Wolfgang Reinl, who is an Austrian, Edidiong Idiong and Sagir Mohammed, on a 13-count charge of corruption and money laundering to the tune of N3.1 billion.
They allegedly diverted the money from the office of the former NSA.
The defendants, who were arraigned along with five companies, denied the charges preferred against them.