By Sandra Umeh
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday held that a plea bargain agreement between the EFCC and an INEC official charged with money laundering, cannot avail the accused.
Justice Mohammed Idris held that by the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), such an accused deserves a heavier sentence.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, and three officials of INEC for money laundering.
Allison-Madueke was however, described in the charge as “still at large.”
The officials are: Christian Nwosu, Yisa Olarenwaju and Tijani Bashir.
When the three officials were arraigned, Nwosu, pleaded guilty to the charges, while Adedoyin and Bashir pleaded not guilty.
The commission had informed the court of a plea bargain agreement between the EFCC and Nwosu.
The court had adjourned the case for sentencing of the accused until April 27.
Delivering his judgement, Justice Idris held that the penalty set out in paragraph 4 of the plea bargain agreement entered into by the accused with the EFCC, ran contrary to the provisions of Section 16 (2) (b) of the ACJA.
Besides a forfeiture of two landed properties in Delta, as well as a forfeiture of the sum of N5 million recovered from the accused, paragraph 4 of the plea bargain also provides:
“That a fine in the sum of N500,000 is proposed to this honourable court, to be imposed on the first defendant upon his conviction on count seven of the amended charge.”
The agreement also provides that within seven days after payment of the fine, the accused shall enter into a bond with the EFCC, never to be involved in economic and financial crimes within and outside Nigeria.
Idris held: “It appears to me that from the provisions of the ACJA the appropriate sentence should be given for the offence charged; the first defendant was charged with offences contrary to Section 16 (1) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Amendment Act.
“Section 16(2) of the said Act provides that any person who commits an offence under sub section 1, is liable upon conviction, to an imprisonment term of not less than two years or fine in the sum of not less than N10 million or both.
“This provision is clear and unambiguous; it is for the above reason that I find the proposal in paragraph 4 of the plea bargain as inadequate; a sentence in my view is more appropriate given the circumstances of this case.
“The law also provides that the judge informs the accused of such sentence, to enable him make a choice.”
After reading the judgment, counsel to the first accused then prayed the court for a short adjournment to enable him discuss with his client.
Following agreement of counsel, the judge adjourned the case until May 3 for continuation.
The prosecution alleged that the accused committed the offence on March 27, 2015 by accepting bribe from the former Petroleum Minister.
They were alleged to have conspired to take possession of the sum of about N264 million which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act of gratification.
The accused were also said to have made cash payments of the sum of about N235 million, which sum exceeded the amount authorized by Law, without going through a financial institution.
EFCC alleged that Bashir (fourth accused) also made a cash payment of about N70.1 million to Adedoyin (third accused) without going through a financial institution and which sum exceeded the amount authorised by law.
The prosecution also alleged that Bashir also directly took possession of the sum of about N165 million which sum he ought reasonably to have known formed part of an unlawful act of gratification.
In count seven, Nwosu was alleged to have directly used the sum of N30 million which he ought to have known formed part of an unlawful act of gratification.
The offences are said to have contravened the provisions of Sections 15 (3), 16 (2) and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Amendment Act, 2012.