Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court on Wednesday appealed to journalist covering proceedings in the alleged money laundering case against, Ochuko Momoh, the wife of the former Managing Director of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Haruna Momoh, and five others.
The defendants were charged by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) over an alleged N2 billion fraud.
Other defendants are Blessing Azuka-Agozi, StanbicIBTC Bank Plc, Energopol Nig., Limited, Blaid Construction Limited and Blaid Farms Limited.
In the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/278/2019, Momoh was alleged to have laundered funds estimated at over N2 billion, using her companies, Blaid Construction and Blaid Farms.
When the case came up on Wednesday, the defence lawyers including Ade Adedeji, SAN, and Friday Onoja
The judge trying the case involving the wife of the ex MD of PPMC, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, has tasked journalists covering the proceedings to report the facts accurately and desist from publishing sensational and misleading information which may affect the defendants rights to fair hearing and the presumption of innocence.
The judge made the appeal after the defence lawyers including Ade Adedeji and Friday Onoja drew the attention of the court to publications in the print and electronic media which falsely reported facts which did not transpire at the last adjourned date of the matter
For instance, the senior lawyer pointed out that the 1st prosecution witness who began giving evidence on that day did not mention anything about 50 bank accounts belonging to the Ist defendant. He argued that the witness did not say anything about the children of the 1st defendant maintaining any accounts to which any money was ever paid among other misinformation carried by the media. He urged the judge to caution the media accordingly.
The judge agreed with the submissions and warned the media to exercise restraint and professionalism in reporting the proceedings in the case.
Justice Taiwo also directed the defence counsel to file an affidavit attaching some of the newspapers with the alleged negative reports, and serve same to the prosecution counsel for the record.
‘I have not read the newspapers in question and therefore cannot say anything for now. Kindly do an affidavit and attached the newspapers.
‘Journalist are members of the Fourth Estate of the realm and they have constitutional duties to report matters of public interest. I cannot stop them but I will kindly appeal to them to always balance their reports in an objective manner.’
Meanwhile, in the charge before the court, Momoh was also accused of refusing to honour ICPC investigators’ invitation.
Azuka Agozi was also alleged to have, while serving as the Company Secretary of Energopol Nig Ltd, reneged in 2016 on her pledge to provide ICPC’s investigators with documents relating to the contracts her company allegedly executed for PPMC and for which it was allegedly paid huge sums.
Stanbic IBTC was accused of failing to report suspicious transactions in the accounts of Blaid Construction and Blaid Farms to the relevant authorities as required by law.
While both women pleaded not guilty when the charge was read to them, the court, acting under the provision of Section 478 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), recorded not guilty plea for the four companies.
The matter has been adjourned to October 28 and 29 for ruling in an application by the prosecution to tender some banks statement for identification.