EFCC boss, Ibrahim Lamorde
By Davidson Iriekpen
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Tuesday discontinued the criminal charges filed against two directors and two oil-marketing and trading firms (OM&T) at the Lagos High Court in Igbosere, Lagos.
The suspects whose charges have been withdrawn are: Durosola Omogbenigun, Peter Mba, Integrated Resources Limited and Pinnacle Oil and Gas Limited.
Following the discontinuance of the charges, the trial judge, Justice Samuel Candide-Johnson, consequently struck out the suit.
At the resumed hearing of the suit Tuesday, counsel to EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, in an application dated July 26, sought the leave of the court to withdraw and discontinue the charges on the grounds that after it reviewed the case and the evidence available to it, it found out that the defendants did not commit the offences for which they were charged.
Oyedepo told the court that he had instructions from the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to withdraw the charges against the defendants. He further argued that withdrawing the charges against the defendants would meet the interest of justice in the case.
In a 10-pragraph affidavit attached to the application, which was deposed to by Usani Francis, a prosecuting counsel with the EFCC, the anti-graft agency said the charges preferred against the defendants were misconstrued by the prosecution and were inadvertently filed against the defendants.
The affidavit read: “That the charges preferred against the defendants were misconstrued by the defendants and were inadvertently filed against the said defendants.
“That a review of the prosecution’s case and the evidence available to the prosecution clearly show that the defendants did not commit the offences for which they are charged.
“That the complainant/applicant in consideration of the above fact has decided to withdraw the criminal charge before this honourable court against the defendants and substitute it with information already filed at the registry of this honourable court in suit No. ID/122C/2012; Federal Republic of Nigeria vs Oluwaseun Ogunbambo and others.
“That withdrawing the charges against the defendants will meet the interest of justice in the case.”
The defendants were earlier charged with conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretence, forgery and use of false documents.
They were alleged to have forged bills of lading and other documents, with which they perpetrated the fraud.
Specifically, Integrated Resources Limited and Omogbenigun were said to have obtained N823,304,765.84 from the Federal Government on November 15, 2011, “by false pretence and with the intent to defraud”.
The defendants allegedly claimed it was subsidy money payable to Integrated Resources Limited under the Petrol Support Fund (PSF).
The money was said to be payments for the Federal Government’s request for 9,190,815 litres of petrol.
The EFCC had averred in the charge that the alleged offences contravened Sections 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act of 2006.
However, it was learnt that the withdrawal of the charges by the EFCC might not be unconnected with plans by the anti-graft agency to properly conduct a thorough investigation into the case.
Sources informed THISDAY that fresh charges would soon be filed against the suspects.
Since the charges were filed against the suspects on July 20, the EFCC had not entered appearance until Tuesday.
On July 26 when the suspects were supposed to be arraigned, both the prosecution and the suspects were absent in court.
While no reason was given for their absence, the prosecution said its non-appearance was because it was attending to other cases at the Ikeja High Court and when it was through, its team was trapped in traffic.
Reacting to the withdrawal of the charges yesterday, the lead counsel to Omogbenigun and Integrated Resources Limited, Mr. Sivbone Edu, from the law firm of Edu, Edu & Co., said the discontinuance of the charges confirmed their fears that the EFCC had not concluded its investigation into the case before heading to court.
Edu said it was within the powers of the prosecution to discontinue criminal charges at any time by withdrawing such charges, and the court to strike out the same as it did.
He said the defence team was surprised to read in the newspapers that charges had been filed against the defendants when investigations had not been concluded and key personnel that issued documentation in the transactions were not invited or interrogated.
In a statement by EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwajaren, the commission said that the withdrawal of the charges against Pinnacle Oil and Gas and others was deliberate.
“In the face of fresh evidence, the commission felt the need to firm up the charges, fully convinced that it is better to consolidate the charges ahead of a formal arraignment than to start making amendments thereafter,” he stated.