•Accuses anti-graft agency of using mercenaries to plead guilty in court
•Ex-First Lady may forfeit N6.3bn propery
By Lukman Olabiyi and Perpetua Egesimba
Former First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, yesterday accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of using mercenaries in court to plead guilty on her behalf. She said the anti-graft agency was plotting to steal her “hard-earned” $15million (about N6.3billion)
She was reacting to the guilty as charged plea by four companies arraigned with a former aide to her husband, Waripamo Dudafa at a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos yesterday.
In a statement issued by her media aide, Chima Osuji, the former First Lady picked holes in the authenticity of the representatives of the four companies who pleaded guilty yesterday to charges of money laundering at the Federal High Court, presided over by Justice Babs Kuewumi.
The first, second and third defendants told the court through their counsel that their clients were challenging the validity of the representatives of Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited; and Avalon Global Property Development Company Limited on the basis that they failed to produce a letter of authority to represent the companies as required under section 477 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
The companies are facing a 15-count second amended charge along with Dudafa. While Dudafa and the two others pleaded not guilty, the fourth to seventh defendants whose authenticity as the true representatives of the company was challenged proceeded to curiously plead guilty and admit culpability before the court.
The EFCC has since frozen the companies’ accounts with Skye Bank, while Mrs Jonathan has sued the commission and the bank, laying claims to the accounts.
The former First Lady alleged that the EFCC presented four unknown people as representatives of the companies, all of who did not show letters authorising them by their respective boards to represent them in the case. “This is a clear evidence of the desperation of the prosecution to pull down the former First Lady and confiscate her hard-earned money,” he quipped.
Osuji stated: “It is an irony. it was the former First Lady who went to court for the repatriation of her confiscated money when she realised that the EFCC and its co-travellers were playing politics with this issue after she had come out publicly to say that the said money belongs to her and that she has all evidence to prove the sources of her money. Up till this very moment, EFCC has refused to interrogate or invite her for questioning.”
He said: “The biggest twist in court on Thursday (yesterday) was that the fourth to seventh defendants pleaded guilty to all the 15-count charge. It is clear that these unknown faces were agents of the EFCC, who have been stage-managed and tutored to come to court to complicate the case as a strategy to confiscate her money.”
The aide reiterated the respect of his boss for the sanctity and integrity of the judiciary as the bastion of hope for every citizen of the country.
He, however, expressed disappointment that Mrs. Jonathan’s well-earned image was being maligned in the court of public opinion through the “tissues of lies being churned out by the EFCC in respect of the matter.
“Mrs Jonathan is not a director, shareholder, promoter and/or participant in any of the four companies now under trial, and that she was the sole signatory to all the said accounts, contrary to the fabrication that she used her driver and cook as proxies,” Osuji said.
Finally, he said Mrs Jonathan has denied ever receiving any monies from any unknown sources into her accounts and that the accounts were opened in order to facilitate her travel overseas particularly for medical treatment, sundry purchase for herself and her late mother Mrs. Charity Oba (Mama Sisi).
Meanwhile, Mrs. Jonathan, had recently filed a suit before the court, claiming ownership of the fund traced to the companies. The N200 million suit instituted by Patience over the fund was filed against the EFCC.
Dudafa, who is a former Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs to Jonathan, appeared before the court alongside seven others by the EFCC.
When the case was called yesterday, Friday David, Agbor Obaro, Fredrick Dioghowori and Taiwo Ebenezer appeared as counsel representing the four companies.
When the charge was read, the first, second and third accused pleaded not guilty to all counts. The four companies represented by individuals, however, pleaded guilty as charged by the commission.
Responding to the plea of the companies, Rotimi Oyedepo, prayed for a short time for review of the facts, adding that he would not waste the time.
Justice Kuewumi, however, declined the prosecution’s request, adding that he would adjourn to a further date.
Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the second and third accused, Messrs Tochukwu Onyiuke, and Joseph Okebiemen, informed the court of a bail application filed on behalf of their clients, adding that same has not been opposed.
They urged the court to admit the accused to bail on liberal terms.
Counsel representing the first accused, Mr. Gboyega Oyewole, also said his client was already on bail on existing conditions granted by a brother judge, and urged the court to allow his client enjoy same bail standing.
To this request of counsel, Justice Kuewumi did not grant the bail to the first accused, and ordered him to file a formal application before the court.
The court, however, granted bail to the second and third accused for N250 million each with one surety in like sum.
The judge said the sureties must be owners of landed properties in Lagos, and if a public servant, such surety must produce a letter of introduction from his employer. The judge also ordered the surties to submit evidence of tax clearance.
He adjourned the case to September 27 for continuation and ordered the accused to be remanded in prison custody pending perfection of their bail.
In the amended charge, the EFCC alleged that the accused had between November 13, 2013, and June 2015, used the different companies to commit the offences.
The accused were alleged to have conspired to retain over 15 million dollars, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of crime.
In a letter to EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, Patience admitted ownership of the money and said it was meant for her foreign medical bills and other private expenses.
In the letter which her lawyers wrote to the EFCC, she said she was the sole signatory to the accounts.
But in her letter, Patience said she had been operating the accounts in the past without hindrance and was shocked to find she could not use her cards on July 7, 2016.
Earlier, the EFCC had established a prima facie case of money laundering against the ex-First Lady and 10 others.
The 11 suspects would face trial for alleged money laundering if the recommendation of the investigative team is upheld.
The EFCC declared that “preliminary investigation has also indicted Mrs. Patience Jonathan.”
The 10 suspects indicted in the investigation are a former Senior Special Assistant (Domestic/Household and Social Events to the former President), Dr. Dudafa Waripamo-Owei Emmanuel; Damola Bolodeoku; Dipo Oshodi; Theodora Varinik; Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development and Investment Limited; Globus Integrated Services Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Skye Bank Plc.
The 10th suspect, Sompre Omiebi, is said to be on the run.
Repeated calls to Mr. Wilson Uwujaren yesterday night went unanswered.