Court acquits Ladoja, ex-commissioner of N4.7bn fraud

0
86

…As Embassy says 102 Nigerians in Chad’s prisons***

Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday discharged and acquitted former Gov. Rasheed Ladoja of Oyo State charged with N4.7 billion fraud.

Idris also discharged and acquitted Mr Waheed Akanbi, Commissioner for Finance during Ladoja’s tenure.

Akanbi was charged along with Ladoja.

Justice Idris who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal, but concluded the trial on a fiat, held that the prosecution failed to establish ingredients of the charge against Ladoja and Akanbi.

Ladoja was re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), alongside Waheed Akanbi, on an 11-count charge of money laundering and conversion of N4.7billion from Oyo State treasury to his personal use.

“EFCC shielded the main culprits from prosecution and meted “absolute injustice” to the defendants.

“I must state that this country cannot sustain the fight against corruption in the manner in which this case has been prosecuted, where those that should be proper defendants to the case are shielded away from prosecution and kept away from facing the law.

“This is unacceptable; this is injustice and this court will not partake in injustice.

“There is no doubt that corruption affects us all; it threatens sustainable economic development, ethical values and justice. Corruption distabilises society and endangers the rule of law,’’ the judge said in a 250-page judgment.

Idris held that there was the need for a fair and just prosecution of criminal cases in the fight against corruption.

“Prosecutors in this fight must be committed to promoting a justice system founded on fairness, equity, compassion and responsibility.

“In the light of all I have said, I find that the prosecution has not established counts one to 11 against the defendants beyond reasonable doubts.

“I am unable, in the circumstances, to find any of the defendants guilty on any or all of the counts as charged.

“The first and second defendants are, therefore, hereby discharged and acquitted on all counts,” he held.

He added that the case of the prosecution lacked credible evidence and was full of contradictions, adding that same was poorly prosecuted.

“I have examined 914 tendered documents forensically; if I have to read the entire judgment, we will leave here by 6p.m; so I will skip some.”

The judge added that the prosecution’s evidence was full of inconsistencies.

“The prosecution was not consistent in the amount of money allegedly missing in the sale of Oyo State’s shares; these contradictions were not explained during the trial.”

According to him, EFCC’s witnesses failed to provide credible evidence in the course of trial.

“The highest burden of proof before getting to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is of course clear and convincing evidence; the case of the prosecution is too low on credible evidence.

“The failure on the part of the prosecution to prove even one count of several ingredients of an offence means it has failed to prove the guilt of the offence beyond all reasonable doubts,” Idris held.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the prosecution called six witnesses, and defence, six.

Evidence in the trial closed on Nov. 17, 2018, while the court adjourned for adoption of addresses.

Parties adopted final addresses on Jan. 21, and the court reserved its verdict.

In the charge, Ladoja and Akanbi were alleged to have conspired to siphon and launder N4.7 billion from the coffers of Oyo State Government.

The EFCC had accused them of converting N1.9 billion belonging to the state for their personal use through the account of a company known as Heritage Apartments Ltd.

The anti-graft agency claimed that they retained the money sometime in 2007 in spite of their knowledge that it was a proceed from a criminal activity.

Ladoja was accused of removing 600,000 pounds from the state coffers in 2007 and sent to his daughter, Bimpe, in London.

In addition, the ex-governor was accused of converting N42 million belonging to the state for his personal use and subsequently using same to purchase an armoured Land Cruiser.

The EFCC added that Ladoja converted N728 million and N77 million at different times in 2007 for his personal use and transferred same to Bistrum Investments for the purchase of a property in Ibadan.

The offences were said to have contravened the provisions of Sections 14, 16, 17 (a) and 18 (1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.

NAN reports that the charge against Ladoja was first instituted in 2008.

Justice Idris is the third judge to handle the case after Justices I. M. Sanni and A. R. Mohammed.

In the meantime, the Embassy of Nigeria in Chad on Friday said no fewer than 102 Nigerians were in the country’s prisons, serving varying jail terms.

Charge d’Affaires in the embassy, Nasiru Waje, disclosed this in N’djamena to some Nigerian journalists on a working visit to Chad.

He said that the inmates, some of whom had not been convicted, were in various prisons across the country.

Mr Waje, however, stated that 39 of the prisoners had regained freedom following the intervention of the embassy.

He said that the Nigerians were held for various offences, including smuggling and attempting to use routes in Chad to enter Europe.

The envoy also said that 8, 000 persons who fled communities in the North-East due to persisting Boko Haram crisis, were in Chad and had been registered as refugees.

He said that additional 5,000 victims of the insurgency were registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), adding that there were many other unregistered refugees also in Chad, from Yobe.

Mr Waje said that Nigeria and Chad had very cordial relationship, stemming from their linguistic, religious and cultural closeness “and existing feeling of oneness among their border communities.”

He added that both countries had five agreements which he noted had strengthened the relationship.

According to him, the agreements are: Security Co-operation Agreement, Bilateral Trade Agreement, Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, Bilateral Air Service Agreement and Waiver of Residence Permit Payment for their nationals.

“All the agreements have helped in stimulating development in both countries.

“For instance, Chad has granted permit to Nigeria, based on the security agreement, to pursue fleeing criminals from Nigeria into the country, and Nigeria has also granted same permit to the Chadian Government.

“It has helped to reduce or eliminated havens of criminals in both countries.

“The waiver on payment of residence permit has encouraged more Nigerians to come into Chad and it is also encouraging increased marriages between nationals of both countries,” he said.

The envoy said that the air agreement had led to Chad Airline and Maersk Airline deciding to fly Nigeria’s route.

According to him, the coming of these two airlines will eliminate the monopoly being enjoyed by ASKY Airline, which goes to Nigeria only twice in a week and charges very high rate.

On activities of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), Mr Waje said that its operations had restored the corridor or business among the countries in the Lake Chad Basin, particularly between Nigeria and Chad.

“Chadians were really suffering and their economy was down, but the operations of MNJTF have significantly helped in boosting business activities in Chad and making the economy vibrant.

“Livestock business, which Chad is known for, is really thriving now and Nigeria is benefitting from it.”

Earlier, Tukur Gusau, Public Relations and Liaison Officer to the Minister of Defence, who led the journalists on the visit, had said that the mission was to acquaint the media with MNJTF’s operations on the insurgency.

He said that terrorism, especially in the Lake Chad Basin and the activities of the Task Force were under-reported in the media.

Mr Gusau noted that the huge efforts of MNJTF and governments in the region in combating the Boko Haram insurgency had remained unreported, making it seem as if nothing much was being done to check the terrorism.