Reprieve came the way of three aides of former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, as a Federal High Court in Lagos held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the 11-count charge filed against them over alleged N3.5billion Paris loan scam.
Striking out the charge filed against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Justice Akintayo Aluko held that the second amended charge filed by the EFCC was initiated in breach of the mandatory provision of Section 45 of the Federal High Court Act.
The former Senate President’s aides are: Saraki’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Gbenga Makanjuola; a cashier in the Senate president’s office, Kolawole Shittu; a former Managing Director of Societe Generale Bank, Robert Chidozie (now at large); a company, Melrose General Services Limited, and its Operations Manager, Obiora Amobi.
They were arraigned before the court in September 2019 on the alleged offences by the EFCC.
The defendants were first arraigned before Justice Babs Kuewunmi, who is on transfer to another division of the court.
Upon the transfer of Justice Kuewunmi, the defendants’ case file was transferred to Justice Akintayo Aluko.
However, midway into their trial, the prosecuting agency (EFCC) applied to the court to amend the charge against them and added two more counts to the 11 counts charges.
However, the defendants, through their counsel, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charges filed against them; they also objected to the second amended 13 count charges.
The defendants in their application argued that the prosecution failed to state categorically in the charge where the offences were committed.
On the second amended charge, the defendants claimed that it was prosecution’s ploy to cure the defects in the first amended charge.
Consequently, they urged the court to dismiss the charge with a cost of N20 million as damages against the EFCC.
However, the EFCC, through its lawyer, opposed the defendants’ application, and urged the court to dismiss it accordingly.
In his ruling, Justice Aluko, having weighed the submissions of parties and plethora of legal authorities cited, conceded to the request of Saraki’s aides, and struck out the charges against them for lack of jurisdiction.
Justice Aluko, however, declined to award the cost of N20 million against the EFCC as requested by the defendants.
In striking out the charge, Justice Aluko held that: “The prosecution called my attention to the second amended charge which they propose to bring in; I see this call as another means of seeking an amendment of the first amended charge, the validity and competence of which is on trial in view of the preliminary objection of the defendants over which the prosecution has joined issue and which is under consideration.
“I see the call by the prosecution urging me to take judicial notice of the proposed second amended charge as inviting the court to overrule itself in its ruling delivered on the October 15, 2021, where this court held that an incompetent originating process cannot be subsequently amended to render it competent as you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.
“I hold the considered view that the call by the prosecution to take judicial notice of the second amended charge in spite of the fact that both parties have joined issues on the validity and competency question of the pending first amended charge, has no capability of bringing relief to the prosecution. This is because the second amended charge was initiated in breach of the mandatory provision of Section 45 of the Federal High Court Act. In the concurring judgment of the Apex Court in Belgore vs FRN and Anor (supra) at page 533 paras D-€, the court held thus: ‘Section 45 of the Federal High Court Act provides for where offences are to be tried…These provisions cannot be waived’.
“Even if I should heed the call of the prosecution to take judicial notice of the second amended charge nevertheless, I do not see how same can improve or repair the case of the prosecution. A glance at the 13 counts in the said charge shows that the alleged offences in the counts were alleged to have been committed in Lagos.
“In as much as the prosecution is still dwelling or relying on the statements in the proof of evidence attached to the earlier amended charge, I venture to say that the story will loudly remain the same. That will continue to expose the obvious contradiction between the 13 counts in the proposed second amended charge as to where the offences were alleged to have been committed and the statements in the proof of evidence. It will mean that the 13 counts in the proposed amended charge reveal Lagos as the place or area of commission of the offences while the statements in the proof of evidence reveal Abuja. This means and remains that the breach of the fundamental and mandatory provision in Section 45 of the Federal High Court Act regarding territorial jurisdiction of this court is still extant in the charge.”
The EFCC had on October 7, 2018, arraigned the defendants before the court on charges bordering on conspiracy, payment of some monies without going through financial institutions.
At their arraignment, the EFCC, through its lawyer, Mr. Ekele Iheanacho, had told the court that the three defendants sometimes in December 2016, conspired among themselves to disguise the origin of the sum of N3.5 billion, which was paid into Melrose General Services Limited bank account.
Iheanacho also told the court that the third accused, Obiora Amobi, who is the operation manager of Melrose General Services between December 15 and 17, 2016, made a cash payment of N300 million to Robert Mbonu (now at large) from the said N3.5 billion, without going through financial institution.
It was also alleged that Saraki’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Makanjuola, and the Cashier in the Senate President’s office, Shittu, had in December 2016 made cash payment of a total of $1.5 million of $500, 000 on three tranches, between themselves without going through a financial institution.
The alleged offences, according to the EFCC are contrary to 18, 15(2) (d), 15(2)(b) 1(a) and 16(2)(b) of Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, and punishable under Sections 15(3) and 16 (2)(b) of the same act.