Alex Enumah in Abuja
A former Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Andrew Yakubu will on July 8, 2020 open his defence in his alleged $9.8million fraud trial at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court.
Trial judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, wednesday fixed the date for Yakubu to enter his defence shortly after he declined to stay proceedings in the trial in deference to two appeals already in the Supreme Court relating to the trial.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on March 16, 2017 arraigned Yakubu on a six-count charge of failure to make full disclosure of his assets, receiving cash without going through a financial institution, which borders on money laundering and intent to avoid a lawful transaction under law, transported at various times to Kaduna, the aggregate sum of $9,772,800 and £74,000.
According to the commission, the said amount was recovered by its agents from a safe allegedly hidden by the defendant in a house in a community in Kaduna State.
In prosecuting the case, the EFCC called in seven witnesses before closing its case on October 17, 2018, after its seventh witness, Suleiman Mohammed (an EFCC operative) gave evidence on how his team, had on February 3, 2017, recovered $9,772,000 and £74,000 stashed in a huge fire proof safe in a building belonging to the defendant, located at Sabon Tasha area of Kaduna State.
But rather than defending himself, the former NNPC boss made a no-case submission, claiming that the prosecution failed to establish the ingredients of the charge.
In his ruling on the no-case submission on May 16, 2019, the judge however partially upheld the no-case submission by striking out two of the six counts contained in the charge and ordered Yakubu to enter defence in relation to the remaining four counts.
Justice Mohammed had held that the prosecution failed to prove counts five and six of the charge which borders on transportation of the money.
“Even though I am tempted to discharge the defendant on counts one to four, I am however constrained to ask the defendant to explain how he came about the monies recovered from his house.
“Fortified with my position, the defendant is hereby ordered to enter his defence in respect of counts one to four.”
Dissatisfied, Yakubu had approached the appellate court to set aside the ruling against his no-case submission.
However, in their ruling a three-man panel of the Court of Appeal had on April 24, 2020, struck out four of the charges and ordered Yakubu to enter his defence in respect of the remaining two counts – counts three and four.
Not satisfied with the decision of the appellate court, both Yakubu and the EFCC went to the Supreme Court to challenge their decision.
When the matter was called yesterday, EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar informed the court that both parties have appealed to the Supreme Court, and that both appeals at the Supreme Court have been entered and briefs of argument filed.
Abubakar said the appeal by the defendant is marked: SC/CR/223/2020, while that of the prosecution is marked: SC/CR/241/2020.
He added: “By the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA 2015 and the EFCC Establishment Act 2004, application for stay of prosecution shall not be entertained where there is an interlocutory appeal.
“However, in the instant case, whatever decision the Supreme Court might arrive at will affect this case in one way or the other.
“However, I am not making any application for stay of proceedings in view of the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA”.
In his response, Yakubu’s lead lawyer, Mallam Ahmed Raji (SAN) objected to the court staying proceedings in the case.
Raji referred to the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Metuh v. FRN case and said: “I am therefore not surprised when Mr. Abubakar said he is not applying for stay of proceedings. I commend him.
“I would have loved to get a stay of proceedings, because my appeal has great chances of succeeding, which would have made it unnecessary for the defendant to enter defence in respect of the two remaining counts.
“Therefore, as a member of the Inner Bar, I owe it a duty to act, at all times, in accordance with the state of the law.
“We are therefore compelled to comply with the subsisting order of the Court of Appeal, mandating the defendant to state his side of the story in respect of counts three and four,” Raji said.
In a short ruling, Justice Mohammed said that although both parties have filed appeals before the Supreme Court, and that the outcome would likely impact the case before him, but he was constrained by the provision of Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), to continue with hearing in the case as ordered by the Court of Appeal.
He then adjourned till July 8 for the defendant to enter his defence in respect of counts three and four, which are now left in the original six counts charge brought against him by the EFCC.