By Davidson Iriekpen
The Court of Appeal in Abuja has discharged and acquitted the former Group Managing Director of Transcorp Plc, Mr. Tom Iseghohi.
In a unanimous decision, the court also set aside the decision of the Federal High Court in Abuja dated October 20, 2014, which overrule the no-case submission.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson further dismissed entirely, the 32-count criminal charge of money laundering filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The anti-graft commission had arraigned Isoghohi, the former Company Secretary, Mohammed Buba and Deputy General Manager, Mike Okoli in 2009.
They were tried for fraud and money laundering in connection with the botched acquisition of the Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) by Transcorp.
Trial began before Justice D.U Okorowo before it was transferred to Justice Evoh Chukwu.
The first prosecution witness (PW1) was Helen Iwuchukwu, now Company Secretary and former Legal Adviser, Department of Shared Services and Strategic Partnership of Transcorp when the alleged crime was committed.
She testified that her job was to review and draw up commercial contracts. She said the Department of State Services (DSS) collected all the contracts in her possession for investigation.
When asked under cross-examination if she could tell the court how the accused persons transferred N15 billion to three companies, she said she was not in a position to know.
She also stated that she knew nothing about a company or any contract drawn for Global Employment Solutions Incorporated (GESI) as alleged in counts three and four of the charge.
Five other witnesses testified for the prosecution, with PW4, who was in charge of audit and finance, saying he did not trace any money to the accused persons.
The prosecution could not secure the attendance of former Transcorp chairman Mrs. Ndi Okereke Onyuike to testify despite adjournments.
The fifth prosecution witness, Aminueem Mohammed, an EFCC operative, said he investigated the case but added under cross-examination that the commission did not receive any petition from Transcorp and NITEL against the defendants nor did they complain about missing funds.
Consequently, the defendants filed a no-case submission, urging the court to dismiss the charge because it established no prima facie case against them.
While adopting their respective written submissions in support of their no case submission, their lawyers argued that the prosecution had not established a prima facie case against the defendants.
Lawyer to Iseghohi, A Ozioko, argued that the prosecution had failed to make out a prima facie case against his client to warrant his being called to enter his defence.
He therefore urged the court to dismiss the charges and acquit the accused person.
John Egwuonwu, who represented the second accused person also argued along the same path. He added that the prosecution failed to prove the words used in all the counts of the charge.
â€œWhen particular words are used in a charge, those words form part of the ingredients or elements which the prosecution must prove to secure conviction. Failure to prove such ingredients is fatal to the case of the prosecution.
â€œThe same words were used in all the 32 counts. Such words were not proved in the trial. The same evidence was led by the prosecution in relation to all the 32 counts, meaning that the failure of one will affect the others,â€ Egwuonwu said.
Lawyer to the third accused person, Sunny Tadi, also urged the court to dismiss the case against his client and discharge him.
Responding, prosecution lawyer, Sylvester Ogbedu, urged the court to ignore the defenceâ€™s arguments and hold that the prosecution has sufficiently proved its case against the accused persons.
After listening to their arguments, Justice Chukwu in ruling, dismissed the no-case, holding that the accused persons had cases to answer.
But the Court of Appeal in setting aside the decision of the Federal High Court, held that from the evidence adduced by the prosecution at the trial, there was no basis for the refusal of the no-case submission.
The appellate court ruled that no evidence was adduced to establish the offence of money laundering against Iseghohi and subsequently discharged and acquitted him of all 32 counts of N15 billion money laundering charge levelled against him.