…I won’t be used to frustrate UK trial, says Judge
From: Lukman Olabiyi
Hope of embattled former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke to be brought to Nigeria to face trial was, on Wednesday, dashed by the Federal High Court, Lagos.
The court dismissed her application seeking to be joined as a defendant in an alleged N450 million fraud case in Nigeria.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa, while rejecting the application, described it as ‘bizarre and a misuse of court processes’, stressing that he would not allow himself to be used to frustrate Diezani’s imminent trial in the United Kingdom, where she is currently under investigation and on bail.
The judge declined all of Diezani’s prayers, including an order mandating the Attorney General of the Federation to facilitate her return from the UK, where she is currently being investigated for alleged fraud by the Metropolitan Police.
“This is not the proper time to join the applicant as a defendant. The applicant has aroused my curiosity as to why she waited this long before coming up with the application for joinder. The court lacks the power to interfere with the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
“The application for joinder is lacking in merit and same is hereby dismissed,” the judge ruled.
Alison-Madueke was seeking to be joined as a defendant in the money laundering charge preferred against a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Dele Belgore, alongside the former minister of national planning, Professor Abubakar Suleiman.
The former minister’s counsel, Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), in the application, urged Justice Aikawa to issue an order mandating the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to list her as a party to the charge involving Belgore and Suleiman.
In the charge, the anti-graft agency mentioned the former petroleum resources minister as being at large.
EFCC accused Belgore and Suleiman of directly receiving N450 million in cash from Alison-Madueke but they pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Arguing the application before Justice Aikawa Monday, Alison-Madueke’s counsel, Ikpeazu said his client was more or less a defendant in the case because there is a complaint against her.
He said it was in the interest of justice and fair hearing to allow her to defend herself in four of the counts.
“It is the fundamental right of the applicant that a criminal proceeding of this nature should not go on in her absence,” he said.
Ikpeazu added that if EFCC does not wish to try or give her an opportunity to defend herself by listing her as a defendant, then, the prosecution should expunge her name from the charge.
“We have no objection if her name is extracted from the charge and the case goes on,” he added.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria cited a case at the court’s Abuja Division, which involves the federal government and Olajide Omokore in which Mrs. Alison-Madueke was mentioned in the charge but was also said to “be at large.”
He said when she brought a similar application to be listed a defendant, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba struck out the count in which she was named.
Ikpeazu urged Justice Aikawa to be persuaded by Justice Dimgba’s ruling.
But, opposing the application, EFCC prosecuting counsel, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo said it was a “violent abuse of court processes. The application is frivolous and is intended to annoy the parties,” he said.
Oyedepo argued that based on section 269 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the prosecution can only amend a charge by adding to the counts or reducing them, not adding a defendant.
He said if any amendment is allowed at this stage, two witnesses having been already called, the trial would start de novo (afresh).
To him, that would occasion a miscarriage of justice.
Besides, Oyedepo said Mrs. Alison-Madueke was not even within the court’s jurisdiction having admitted in her application that she was in London. The EFCC lawyer said the former minister was given an opportunity before trial commenced to answer the charge, but, she allegedly escaped.
“Immediately she got to know about the investigation of this case, she absconded from Nigeria. Upon realising that she is in London, we made effort to meet her interview her there…”
“But she has always refused to meet with our team members. Her lawyer in London, one Mr John Beans, said the team would not be permitted to meet her because she’s outside jurisdiction,” Oyedepo said.
The lawyer said the application was, therefore, “misconceived and belated”.
According to him, apart from the prosecution who would suffer avoidable delay, the defendants would also be prejudiced.
Oyedepo said the trial should be allowed to go on without her,