N46bn Fraud: Tompolo Fails To Unseat Sections 221, 306

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  • As Malami says Gov’t set to publish looters’ names

The Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday, dismissed a suit filed by Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tomopolo, challenging a criminal charge preferred against him by the Federal Government.

The EFCC had charged Tompolo alongside nine others for an alleged N45.9 billion fraud.

Counsel to Tompolo, Mr Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, had approached the court seeking the nullification of section 221 and 306 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, under which he was charged.

He argued that the two sections violate his constitutional right to fair hearing.

Joined as defendants in the suit are: the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Inspector-General of Police, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff.

In the application, Tompolo also argued that both sections 221 and 306 of the ACJA are unconstitutional since they seek to prevent the court from exercising its jurisdiction to entertain any objection to a criminal charge.

The indicated section 221 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, provides:
“objections shall not be taken or entertained during proceedings or trial on the ground of an imperfect or erroneous charge”

While Section 306 states that “an application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before a court shall not be entertained”.

Responding to Tompolo’s application, the Federal Government, through its lawyer, Mr Idris Mohammed, urged the court to dismiss the suit with a substantive cost, saying it is an abuse of court process.

Dismissing the suit, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, held that the Supreme Court had affirmed that whether a charge is defective or not, an accused is bound to first take his plea.

He added that an interlocutory application could stop a criminal trial.

The judge, however, did not award any cost against the plaintiff.

It would be recalled that Justice Ibrahim Buba of the same court had on Jan. 14, 2016, issued a warrant for the arrest of Tompolo, after he failed to show up for his trial.

In the meantime, the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), on Wednesday said the Federal Government would publish the names of treasury looters intermittently after it must have met some conditions.

A Federal High Court in Lagos had earlier on Wednesday gave a ruling compelling the Federal Government to “immediately release to Nigerians information about the names of high-ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered and the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.”

Justice Hadiza Shagari gave the order while delivering judgment in a suit filed against the Federal Government by a human rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project.

The Federal Government had last year, through the Ministry of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed that it had recovered cash sums of N78,325,354,631.82,   $185,119,584.61, £3,508,355.46 and €11,250, among others, between May 29, 2015 and May 25, 2016.

The names of persons from whom the funds were recovered were, however, not made public.

SERAP had last year filed the suit, seeking a court order to compel the Federal Government to make the names public.

In a judgment on Wednesday, Justice Shagari, upheld the group’s argument that “by virtue of the provisions of Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the defendants are under a binding legal obligation to provide the plaintiff with up-to-date information” as regards the names of the high-ranking public officials from whom the funds were recovered as well as “the circumstances under which the stolen public funds were returned.”

SERAP had, in its suit marked FHC/CS/964/2016, contended that by releasing the names of the looters, the Federal Government had nothing to lose.

While answering reporters’ questions at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Malami said the list would be published intermittently.

Additional report from Punch