A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday reserved ruling on a motion seeking to set aside the guilty plea of four firms allegedly used to launder $15.5 million allegedly belonging to a former First Lady, Patience Jonathan.
The motion was filed by a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs, who is standing trial alongside former aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, and Adedamola Bolodeoku.
They are charged with concealing $15.5 million which is said to have formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act through various banks in Nigeria.
They were charged along with four firms namely — Pluto Property and Investment Company Ltd, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Ltd, Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Ltd and Avalon Global Property Development Company.
While the three accused pleaded not guilty to the charges, the four firms had pleaded guilty through their representatives — Friday Davies, Agbor Baro, Dioghowori Frederick and Taiwo Ebenezer.
Justice Babs Kuewumi had convicted the firms on the alleged offence following a review of the facts of the case by prosecution after their plea.
Dissatisfied, Messrs. Dudafa and Briggs had filed separate applications seeking to reverse the plea before the court.
The applications were, however, dismissed by Justice Kuewumi on the grounds that the same issues were being canvassed by the accused at the Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal in its judgement on June 15, had directed the lower court to hear Mr. Briggs’ motion seeking to reverse the firm’s plea.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Wednesday, the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, sought the court’s permission to continue with the examination-in-chief of the first prosecution witness.
The request was, however, opposed by the defence lawyers.
Mr. Briggs’ lawyer, Ige Asemudara, drew the court’s attention to the Appeal Court’s judgement which ordered the hearing of his client’s motion challenging the guilty plea of the four firms.
He also disclosed that he had filed another motion seeking to set aside the conviction of the four firms.
In his own submissions, lawyer representing the four firms, Mike Ozekhome, also notified the court of the existence of a motion he filed since May 8 seeking to set aside the guilty plea of the firms.
According to him, the court cannot proceed to trial when the plea of the firms which are in joint trial with the other accused persons is in contention.
Lawyers to the other accused, Gboyega Oyewole and Joseph Okodieme, also aligned themselves with the submissions.
Justice Kuewumi then opted to hear Mr. Briggs motion as directed by the Court of Appeal.
Moving the motion, Mr. Asemudara, argued that the plea entered into by the firms where his client is secretary, did not comply with Sections 477 (3)and 478 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
Mr. Asemudara added that the prosecution had yet to file any counter-affidavit against the motion.
In his response, EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Oyedepo urged the court to rely on its record with regards to the service of the charge on the directors of the firms as well as their appearances before the court.
He added that in view of the firms’ plea which was made by the directors and upon the admission of the facts reviewed by the prosecution leading to the firm’s conviction, the motion is a violent abuse of court’s process.
Mr. Oyedepo said that the applicant (Briggs) equally lacked the ‘locus standi’ to complain about the plea of his co-accused because the plea of an accused person is peculiar and personal to him or her.
The court has fixed November 22 for hearing of other pending applications in the case.