By Davidson Iriekpen
The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal yesterday upturned the 10-year jail term slammed on the Managing Director of Ontario Oil and Gas, Mrs. Ada Ugo-Ngali, by an Ikeja High Court in Lagos.
In a lead judgment delivered by Justice M. L. Garba, the appellate court quashed the conviction of the appellant and accordingly, discharged and acquitted her of the allegations leading to her conviction.
Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos High Court had in January, 2017, convicted and sentenced Ugo-Ngali to 10 years jail term for fuel subsidy fraud of amounting to N754 million, alongside the company’s chairman, Walter Wagbatsoma, who is currently in jail in the United Kingdom.
The judge had also ordered the refund of the N754 million to the federal government.
Both the company’s managing director and chairman were charged and arraigned before Justice Okunnu lon an eight-count charge by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The EFCC had on August 1, 2013 arraigned Ngo-Ngali, Wagbatsoma and their company, accusing them of defrauding the federal government of N1.9billion, which they fraudulently obtained as subsidy sum for purportedly importing petrol into the country.
Also charged with them was an official of the Petroleum Products Price and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Mr. Babafemi Fakuade, who was however, discharged and acquitted by the judge on January 13.
Dissatisfied with the lower court, Ugo-Ngali through her lawyer, Chief Uweche (SAN) approached the Court of Appeal to upturn the judgment in an appeal marked CA/L/348C/17 and dated February 9, 2017.
The appellant had urged the upper court to discharge her of the conviction on the grounds that she cannot be sentence in the absence of her co-accused.
Delivering the lead judgment in the suit, the presiding judge, Justice M. L. Garba, quashed the conviction and discharged and acquitted the appellant.
The judge held that upon reading the record of appeal and respective briefs of argument filed on behalf of both parties, it was clear that the appellant was convicted and sentenced in absentia.
The appellate court held: “Upon reading the record of appeal and respective briefs of argument filed on behalf of both parties.
“It is ordered that for being a nullity the proceedings by High Court in the Court of Appeal trial of the appellant and others appellants in appeal CA/L/348c/17, and CA/L/389c/17, including the judgment delivered on January 13, 2017, convicting them of the offences they were tried for and the sentenced passed on them on January 26, 2017, in the absence of appellant in CA/L/348c/17, are hereby set aside.
“That in consequence, the conviction and sentenced of the appellant in the said judgment are quashed, and the appellant discharged and acquitted accordingly.”
Other members of the panel, which include: Justice J. S. Ikjegh and Justice Y. Nimper, agreed with the lead judgment.