By Alex Enumah
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division yesterday upheld the no-case submission made by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s cousin, Robert Azibaola in his alleged $40 million fraud and money laundering trial.
The appellate court in a unanimous judgment by a three-man panel led by Justice Stephen Adah held that the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants.
Azibaola, his wife, Stella and a company linked to Azibaola, One Plus Holdings Nigeria Limited were arraigned in 2016 on a nine count criminal charge for allegedly diverting the sum of $40 million meant for the supply of tactical communication kits for special forces.
According to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the money was allegedly transferred from the account of the office of former National Security Adviser (NSA) Colonel Sambo Dasuki (Rtd) with the Central Bank of Nigeria to the domiciliary account of Azibaola’s company.
However, the defendants who at their arraignment in 2016 pleaded not guilty to the nine count charge, after the prosecution closed its case after calling 10 witnesses and tendering 31 exhibits.
However ruling on the no-case submission on March 29, 2018, trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, partially upheld the no-case submission of the defendants.
While the court completely upheld the no-case submission in respect of the second defendants and accordingly discharged and acquitted her from the charges, it held that Azibaola and his company had a case to answer in regards to counts two and three of the charge.
Miffed by this decision, the EFCC approached the Court of Appeal, Abuja seeking to set aside the ruling and ordered the defendants to enter into their defence.
But in their judgment yesterday, the appellate court held that the lower court was right when it upheld the no-case submission of the first and third defendants partially.
According to the judgment, the trial court was in order to discharge and acquit Azibaola and his company in counts 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 because offences of money laundering were not sufficiently proved, nor did the prosecution establish any prima facie case against the respondents.
“We have gone through the records and found that the appeal is lacking in merit, the appeal is hereby dismissed and the judgment of the lower court upheld,” Justice Adah who read the lead judgment stated.
Earlier, the appellate court dismissed a preliminary objection to the appeal on the grounds that the interlocutory appeal has live.
The respondents had argued that the appeal was academic because judgment had already been given in the substantive case, wherein the court discharged and acquitted them in the remaining count two and three charges before the appellate court.