Appeal Court Nullifies Metuh’s Conviction, Orders Retrial

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Voids Dasuki’s indictment

By Alex Enumah

The Court of Appeal in Abuja has voided the February 25, 2020 judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja which convicted former spokesman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh and his firm, Destra Investment Limited and sentenced athem to seven years imprisonment for money laundering offences.

A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgment yesterday, held that Metuh and Destra’s trial before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court was tainted with elements of bias and prejudice against the defendants.

The court reached this conclusion in two judgments in the appeals by Metuh and Destra, marked: CA/A/306C/2020 and CA/A/CR/309/2020.

Justice Stephen Adah, who read the lead judgments in both appeals, said from the record of proceedings, it was evident that the judge portrayed himself as someone who had an axe to grind with the defendants and his team of lawyers.

Justice Adah noted that Justice Abang, in his judgment, narrated his ordeal in the hands of the appellants (defendants) and their lawyers, which also portrayed him as someone who was not willingly trying the case.

He said the duty of a trial judge is to be detached from the case before him, and that such a judge is expected to afford both parties in the case.

Justice Adah, who noted that a trial judge was expected not only to be fair to both sides, but must be seen to be impartial in his handling of any case brought before him, held that, in his handling of the case, Justice Abang did not treat the defendants (appellant) and their lawyers fairly.

“His (the trial judge’s) comments betrayed the mindset of the court against the appellants (defendants), Justice Adah said.

He added that the appellants were able to convince the appellate court that there was the likelihood of bias on the conduct of the trial judge, who denied them fair hearing while the trial was going on.

“Where somebody is charge, he must be subjected to fair trial and accorded respect, Justice Adah said and added that implication of a trial tainted with bias on the part of the judge, is that the product of such trial cannot stand.

He accordingly annulled the proceedings leading to the judgment, voided the judgment and ordered the return of the case to the Federal High Court for retrial.

Reacting, Metuh’s lawyer, Emeka Etiaba (SAN) said since the court has nullified the conviction of his client, the next step is for the legal team to activate the relevant administrative procedure to ensure Metuh’s release from prison.

Etiaba, who noted that his client has spent about 10 months in prison as a result of a tainted trial, said they had expected that the Court of Appeal would free Metuh instead of ordering a retrial.

The lawyer who prosecuted the case, Sylvanus Tahir, of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said his organisation would study the judgments and decided on what next steps to take.

In the third judgment, the Court of Appeal upheld the appeal by former National Security Adviser (NSA), Mohammed Sambo Dasuki against his indictment in some portions of the judgment convicting former spokesman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh.

Dasuki had argued, in the appeal marked: CA/A/319/M/2020, that the trial judge at the Federal High Court, Abuja, Justice Okon Abang made some conclusive and indicting statements against him in portions of the judgment he gave on February 25, 2020, convicting Metuh and his firm, Dextra Investment for money laundering offences.

The same three-man panel of the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge was wrong to have indicted Dasuki in some portions of the judgment when he (Dasuki) was not a defendant in the case, but only acted as a subpoenaed witness.

Justice Adah, in the lead judgment, was of the view that the trial judge breached Dasuki’s right to fair hearing as he was not heard in respect of the issues on which the trial judge made indicting statements against him, particularly as it related to the N400m his (Dasuki’s) office was said to have transferred to Metuh’s account.

Justice Adah noted that certain lines of the judgment indicted the appellant (Dasuki) without giving fair hearing, noting that the only role he played in the trial was as a subpoenaed witness.

He noted that the appellant was not heard on the issues on which indicting statements were made against him in the judgment.

In nullifying those portions of the judgment that indicted Dasuki, Justice Adah said: “This appeal is allowed and every strand of those lines, indicting the appellant in the judgment is nullified.

The appeal of the appellant succeeds,” Justice Adah said.