The Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday fixed 14 October for re-arraignment of a formerly convicted former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s spokesperson, Olisa Metuh.
This signals the commencement of his retrial on money laundering charges as ordered by the Court of Appeal in December 2020.
Mr Metuh faces charges of laundering N400million he allegedly received fraudulently from a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, for his party’s presidential campaigns ahead of the 2015 elections.
Two of the charges have to do with $2million cash he allegedly transacted with without going through a financial institution, in violation of cash transaction limits set in the money laundering law.
Earlier jailed seven years for the offences on 25 February, 2020, Mr Metuh got out of prison in December after the Court of Appeal in Abuja nullified his previous trial and ordered his retrial.
The Court of Appeal had, without considering the merit of the money laundering case, set aside the proceedings leading up to Mr Metuh’s conviction by the Federal High Court in Abuja on the grounds that the trial judge, Okon Abang, allegedly exhibited bias against the ex-spokesperson of the PDP and his legal team
Following the Court of Appeal’s judgment, Nkeonye Maha, another judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on 24 December, 2020, ordered the release of Mr Metuh from prison based on a N250 million bail bond, and granted him permission to travel abroad on health grounds pending his retrial.
A News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report indicates on Tuesday that the case has been reassigned to another judge of the Federal High Court, Obiora Egwuatu.
NAN reports that all the parties in the matter, including Mr Metuh, were in court, on Tuesday, but the judge was absent.
Mr Metuh’s matter was number six on the Tuesday’s cause list of the court.
Due to the judge’s absence, the court’s registrar fixed 14 October for re-arraignment in the case.
Earlier reluctant to pursue a retrial, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had appealed to the Supreme Court asking for an order setting aside the Court of Appeal’s decision.
The commission urged the apex court to uphold the judgment of the trial court and send Mr Metuh back prison to complete his jail term.
Road to re-arraignment
NAN reports that the Court of Appeal, Abuja, on 16 December, 2020, nullified the Federal High Court judgement that convicted and sentenced Mr Metuh to seven years imprisonment on money laundering charges.
In the judgment of the three-member panel of the appeal court led by Stephen Adah, the Court of Appeal held that the proceedings of the Federal High Court which led to the conviction of Mr Metuh were ”tainted and therefore must not be allowed to stand”.
Mr Adah held in the judgment that the “expressions” of the trial judge, during the trial ”established that he was biased against the convicts”. He, therefore, ordered that the trial be conducted afresh.
“The narrative of the trial judge suggests someone who didn’t enjoy trying the appellant and counsel because he said they were picking on him. He was struggling with the case and even wished that he should be recused out of the case.
“The influence from the narrative is indisputably to say the least that a trial judge was angered only in his mind that he was wrongly influenced and showed bias against the appellant in this case as this is what manifests from all the outbursts, he has infused in his judgement.”
“Learned trial judge showed in his comments, the influence of an abnormal desire all inclination to pursue a predetermined line of action against the appellant. This is no doubt is an influence of bias against the appellant. There is no way the learned trial judge can be seen to be detached from the malice against the appellant in the case as alleged.”
The appellate court voided the conviction and sentence imposed on Mr Metuh and his company, Destra Investment Limited.
It also ordered that the case be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment.
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