A former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke on Monday asked a Federal High Court in Lagos to issue an order, listing her as a party to a N500 million fraud charge involving a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dele Belgore.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged Belgore together with a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Suleiman, on a five-count charge bordering on N500 million fraud.
The EFCC had named the former petroleum minister as an accomplice in the criminal trial.
She was however, described as being “at large”.
The EFCC prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo had opened the case for the prosecution and had already called two witnesses in the ongoing trial.
Meanwhile, at the last adjournment on Oct 6, Allison-Madueke, through her lawyer, urged the court to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation to extradite her to Nigeria from the United Kingdom to defend herself.
Justice Mohammed Aikawa had adjourned the case to hear the motion to join Allison-Madueke.
At the resumed trial on Monday, Mr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), counsel representing Allison-Madueke (the applicant), urged the court to grant his application for “joinder of the applicant” in the sole interest of justice.
“My lord, we have a motion dated Sept. 29 and an affidavit of 16 paragraphs together with a written address which we rely on.
“We have received the counter-affidavit of counsel, but there remains yet one consideration which should touch conscience of parties.
“In four counts of the charge, the applicant’s name was mentioned clearly and there is no alteration to the fact that she has been charged; it simply suggests that it is a consummated complaint.”
According to Ikpeazu, by the definition Section of 494 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, a defendant is any person against whom a complaint or charge is made, while a charge refers to an allegation that any named person has committed an offence.
He argued that from count one to count four, the name of the applicant was mentioned as an accomplice, adding that it would be in the interest of justice to join her in the charge.
Persuasively citing the authority of Frn vs Jide Omokore, FHC/Abj/CR/121/2016, which he argues bears similarity with the instant case, he noted that the judge had struck out the charges on similar grounds.
“We will have no objections if the applicant’s name is extracted from the charge, then, trial can proceed. Otherwise, she should be included in the charge.
“I know that she will be happy to come and face the trial,” he told the court.
Objecting to the motion for joinder, counsel to the first accused, Mr E. O. Shofunde (SAN), informed the court of his counter-affidavit filed in opposition to the application.
Firstly, Shofunde, argued that the applicant was not a necessary party to the suit since in the end, the court will only decide the guilt or innocence of the first and second accused who were charged.
Again, he contended that by the combined provisions of Sections 216(2), 221, 273, 274, and 494(1) of the Criminal Justice Act, only the prosecution could exercise the power to amend a process during trial.
He argued that it will be “incongruous” for any other party to seek an amendment of a criminal charge, adding that the court will not make an order in vain.
Besides, the counsel argued that it will amount to a waste of precious judicial time if that amendment was allowed since some progress had been made in the case.
In his response, Oyedepo, agreed with the first defence counsel and vehemently opposed the application for joinder, citing the Ewenla Vs State case.
He noted that where trial had commenced, the state could only amend a charge for purposes of adding offences and not defendants.
Oyedepo said:“Iif an amendment is allowed at this stage, it will occasion a miscarriage of justice.”
He added that several attempts were initially made to interrogate the applicant, but that she fled to London after she got wind of the move by the EFCC, and has since then, carefully avoided any meeting with the commission.
According to Oyedepo, it is misconceived and too late in the day for the applicant to now seek to be joined in the charge when she is already under investigation in London.
He submitted that whenever the applicant returns to Nigeria, she can still be tried as time does not run against the prosecution in criminal trial.
After listening to the counsel, Justice Aikawa fixed Nov. 1 for ruling.
In the amended charge, Diezani was alleged to have conspired with Belgore and Sulaiman on or about March 27, 2015 to directly take possession of the sum of N450 million which they reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful act.
They were also alleged to have taken the said funds in cash which exceeded the amount authorized by law without going through the financial institutions.
Belgore and Sulaiman were also alleged to have paid the sum of N50 million to a man, Sheriff Shagaya, without going through any financial institution.
The offences contravened the provisions of Sections 15(2)(d), 1(a), 16(d) and 18 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Amended Act, 2012. (NAN)