Abuja – Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, struck out the name of former Petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke from the nine-count charge filed by the Federal Government against Mr. Jide Omokere and five others.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had instituted a nine-count criminal charge against Omokere, alleging that he used his two companies to divert about $1.6bn, being part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government.
Aside Omokere, other defendants in the case included, his two companies, Atlantic Energy
Brass Development Ltd and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Ltd. Other defendants are a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Victor Briggs; a former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Abiye Membere; and a former Manager, Planning and Commercial of the NNPC, David Mbanefo.
Ruling in a motion on notice filed by Deziani, Justice Dimgba struck out count 8, where she was accused alongside Biggs, Membere and Mbanefo of aiding Omokore in the commission of money laundering offence.
The court upheld the submission of Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, counsel to Deziani, that it was wrong to mention a person in a charge without giving the person the opportunity to defend him of herself.
In the circumstances, the court overruled the arguments of the prosecution counsel, insisting that the right thing to do is to strike out the applicant’s name from the charge sheet.
Deziani’s application was brought pursuant to Section 36(1), (5), (6), (A)-(E) of the 1999 Constitution as amended; as well as Sections 216(1), (2), (3), (4) and 217 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
In the application, she had prayed for an order amending the heading of the charge no. FHC/Abj/Cr/121/2016, between FGN and the six defendants, “by adding the applicant (Deziani) as the 7th defendant, or as a defendant (as the case may be) having regard to Count 8 of the Charge in which her name appears as a defendant”.
By the application filed on her behalf by Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN, dated August 17, 2017, Deziani wants, “An order mandating the applicant to appear in court on the next adjourned date of October 5, 2017 to plead to the charge and in particular Count 8, being a condition precedent for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the count.
Deziani also prayed for an order mandating the Attorney General of the Federation being an agent of the FG (complainant) to facilitate the prompt appearance of the applicant in court on October 5, to take plea and to defend herself over the allegations made against her in count 8.
Count 8 of the alleges that the applicant and three others did abet the commission of money laundering by certain named individuals and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering. (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
Deziani had argued that she was not served any notice of arraignment as the FG was bound to.
Though, she said she was willing to appear in court to defend herself, but her name was surreptitiously left out of the list of defendants despite the fact that she is a named defendant by virtue of the disclosures in count 8 of the charge.
More so, she argued that her constitutional right of fair hearing is being infringed as the trial is proceeding in her absence in spite of the fact that allegations of astronomical proportion were made against her.
But in a counter affidavit in opposition to the application, deposed to by one Rufai Zaki, a Detective with the EFCC, the Commission stated that most of the depositions in the affidavit in support of Deziani’s application are not correct and aimed at misleading the court.
He averred that Deziani “is a fugitive who had escaped from Nigeria to avoid investigation and possible prosecution by the EFCC”.
The EFCC stated that Deziani is said to be currently in the United Kingdom facing some legal proceedings.
The EFCC maintained that granting the application would interfere with the exercise of the prosecutorial power of the AGF and the Commission.
Zaki stated that immediate Deziani knew that she was under investigation based on
intelligent report, “She absconded from Nigeria in order to escape the investigation and prosecution by the EFCC”.
Therefore, the EFCC in urging the court to dismiss the application, said “the prosecution cannot be compelled to charge a new party”.
The commission stated that there is nothing which empowers a person to apply to be joined as a co-defendant in a criminal case.