By Sunday Okobi
The conviction of Michael Igbinedion for money laundering on April 29, 2015, at a Federal High Court Benin City, Edo State, presided over by Justice A.M Liman, is again raising both legal and jurisprudential controversies.
Igbinedion was consequently sentenced and asked to pay a fine of N1 million in each of the counts in default of which he shall serve a prison sentence of two years on each of the said counts.
But following recent reports that even members of the Public Accounts Committees in the seventh National Assembly, statutorily responsible for ensuring probity and accountability in the nation’s financial system allegedly compromised the Money Laundering Act during their tenure, a group in Benin City, known as Equity Group (EG) has therefore advised Igbinedion to go back to court to get proper justice.
The National Assembly report has it that members of the committee as well as their representatives reportedly withdrew money totaling about N226million even in the face of the money laundering law.
The group, speaking through it head, Pastor Pascal Oboh in a statement, said: “Since the action of members of the committee was not seen as a violation of the money laundering law, one stands to reason that Igbinedion’s conviction may have been politically motivated.”
The group posited that the conviction was enough damage to the spirit of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004 hereinafter referred to as MLPA even as he further said it was imperative to understand the spirit and philosophy behind the MLPA both in our domestic law and globally.
In reference to Part 1, Subsection 1 of the Money Laundering Act 2011, it provides that: “No person or corporate body shall, except in a transaction through a financial institution, make or accept cash payment of a sum exceeding (a) N5 million or its equivalent, in the case of an individual, or (b) N10 million or its equivalent in the case of a corporate body.”
EG, while condemning the prison sentence, called for a review for the fact that: “Igbinedion acted as the Personal Assistant to Lucky Igbinedion who was then the Governor of Edo State from 2001 to 2006. That as a personal assistant to the governor, part of his duties was to run errands for the governor and also collect on behalf of the governor his due entitlements, allowances, gratuities and other sundry funds meant for the office of the governor.
“That between 2002 and 2006, Michael Igbinedion did collect cash payment from the cashier of the state Government House on behalf of his principal totaling N13, 309,000 which sum was duly appropriated.
“And that the evidence of PW7, Sunday Okundia, who is the permanent secretary as well as PW 8, Victor Edoghaye, who is the chief accountant shows clearly that the sum involved as further evidenced in the M Series Exhibits tendered by the prosecution were covered by the budget of the state government while that of the head of expenses was covered by requisitions followed by approval before final release.
“It is also not in doubt from the evidence that Michael Igbinedion was not tried for any offence that he committed in his personal capacity but was prosecuted in his official capacity as the personal assistant to the then state governor for official activities carried out at all times material to the proceedings in the trial court.”
The group further stated that: “All the prosecution witnesses admitted without equivocation that the funds which constitute the subject matter of the charge were not generated from the illegal and unlawful dealings or illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, human trafficking, terrorism and psychotropic substances, and that the release of each of the funds listed in the counts was done genuinely and legally.
“It is therefore our considered view that it is impossible to launder official funds in execution of official duties.
“It is curious that the trial court failed to take advantage of the provision of Section 112 of the Evidence Act to take judicial notice of Vanguard Newspaper of July 6, 2014.”
The group however said the charges ought to have been dismissed if the trial judge had turned his mind to the meaning of the word payment used in the MLPA.