Godwin Tsa Abuja
Abuja division of the Federal High Court yesterday declined to stop further proceedings in the trial of former General Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu, over alleged money laundering offences involving about $9.8million.
The court said it was constrained to stay proceedings on the trial in view of Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
The defendant had applied that his trial be halted pending the outcome of his appeal before the Supreme Court.
However, in his ruling, Justice Ahmed Mohammed held that in view of the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA and the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Olisa Metuh v. the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he cannot grant a stay of proceedings in a criminal matter.
He noted further that although both parties in the case were dissatisfied with the April 24, 2020 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja and has since appealed the decision, the court is legally harmstrung in granting same.
He then adjourned till July 8 for the defendant to enter his defence in respect of counts three and four, which are now left in the original six counts charge brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Yakubu was arraigned on March 16, 2017 on a six-count charge of failure to make full disclosure of assets, receiving cash without going through a financial institution, which borders on money laundering and intent to avoid a lawful transaction under law, transported at various times to Kaduna, the aggregate sum of $9,772,800 and £74,000.
The EFCC said the money was recovered by its agents from a safe allegedly hidden by the defendant in a house in a community in Kaduna State.
On October 17, 2018, the prosecution closed its case after calling its seventh witness, Suleiman Mohammed (an EFCC operative) who gave evidence regarding how the commission’s officials, on February 3, 2017, recovered $9,772,000 and £74,000 stashed in a huge fire proof safe in a building belonging to the defendant, located at Sabon Tasha area of Kaduna State.
At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the defendant made a no-case submission, which Justice Mohammed partially upheld in a ruling on May 16, 2019.
The judge struck out two of the six counts contained in the charge and ordered Yakubu to enter defence in relation to the remaining four counts.
Justice Mohammed said: “I agree with the defence counsel that the prosecution has failed to prove the essential element of transportation of money on counts five and six. I accordingly discharge the defendant on counts five and six.
Rather than enter his defence as ordered by the court, Yakubu appealed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja.
In a judgment on April 24, 2020, the Court of Appeal partially upheld Yakubu’s appeal.
A three-man panel of the appellate court held, among others, that the prosecution was unable, by the evidence it led at the trial court, to establish a prima facie case against the defendant in relation to counts five and six.
The Court of Appeal then struck out counts five and six from the charge and ordered the case be returned to the trial court for Yakubu to enter defence in respect of the remaining two counts – counts three and four.
At the mention of the case yesterday, prosecution lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, said both parties have appealed to the Supreme Court, and that both appeals at the Supreme Court have been entered and briefs of argument filed
Responding, lead defence lawyer, Ahmed Raji (SAN), objected to the court staying proceedings in the case.
“We are, therefore, compelled to comply with the subsisting order of the Court of Appeal, mandating the defendant to state his side of the story in respect of counts three and four,” Raji said.