The Federal High Court in Abuja will on February 25 deliver judgment in the four years trial of a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, on money laundering charges involving the N400m which he was accused of receiving fraudulently from the Office of the National Security Adviser in 2015.
Justice Okon Abang fixed Tuesday for judgment after the prosecution and the defence lawyers made their closing arguments on November 26, 2019.
Metuh and his company, Destra Investment Limited, are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on seven counts of money laundering, including allegations that they both fraudulently took the N400m “when they reasonably ought to know” that the money was part of the proceeds of alleged criminal act of the then NSA, Sambo Dasuki.
Metuh was also accused of transacting with a cash of $2m without going through a financial institution in violation of a provision of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
The defendants had pleaded not guilty to all the seven counts when they were arraigned before the court in January 2016.
On November 26, the defence team, comprising Mr. Abel Ozioko, who appeared for Metuh and Mr. Tochukwu Onwugbufor (SAN) for Destra Investments, urged the court to discharge and acquit their clients on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove the alleged offences.
But the EFCC’s prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, maintained that his team had proved all the offences charged beyond reasonable doubt, as he called on the judge to pass a guilty verdict on the defendants.
Adopting the written address which he filed on Metuh’s behalf, Ozioko contended that the N400m received from ONSA by the defendants was meant for provision of “security services” as authorised by then President Goodluck Jonathan.
He argued that the prosecution failed to show that the services were not provided.
He added that the defendants were legitimately asked by Jonathan to carry out the security services and not a contract.
He said the prosecution erroneously stated in the charges that the defendants took the N400m from ONSA without any award of contract to justify the payment.
This, Ozioko said, contradicted the evidence of the prosecution’s third witness that the money was for security services, not a contract.
Both Ozioko and Destra Investment’s lawyer, Onwugbufor, maintained that the ingredients of the offences were not proved.
Explaining, Onwugbufor argued, “The sum of N400m was used for security purposes for which it was approved.
“Once money is used for which it was allocated, it cannot constitute money laundering.”
Onwugbufor added that the failure of the prosecution to call Jonathan as a witness to testify on whether he authorised the payment or not was detrimental to the case.
He added that for a money laundering offence to be successfully proved, the prosecution must prove the “illegitimacy of the origin of the money”, which he said the EFCC had failed to do in the case.
He added, “For money laundering to be established, it must be shown that the origin of the money was illicit and that was why it was being laundered to make it look legitimate.
“The money was legitimately provided and transferred to the second defendant (Destra).”
He added also said the predicate offences which are by definition, the offences that gave rise to money laundering, must also be proved, but that the prosecution failed to do so.
The predicate offence indicated in the case by the EFCC is that the N400m was part of the proceeds of Dasuki’s unlawful activities, an allegation which the defence said remained unproved.
Onwugbufor cited a Court of Appeal judgment in the case of FRN Vs Yahaya (2016) which he said makes it mandatory for the prosecution to prove the predicate offences.
“Instead of relying on the laws established in Nigeria, the prosecution relied on a case decided in the United Kingdom but which cannot cross the Atlantic Ocean,” the senior lawyer said.
In response, EFCC’s lawyer, Tahir, said the prosecution having proved its case beyond reasonable doubt, the court should to rise above sympathy and convict the defendants.
“On the strength of evidence and expectations of the law as contained in the written address, we urge your lordship to convict the accused persons in all the counts,” Tahir added.
On why he relied on a UK judgment to argue that the predicate offences needed not to be proved to establish the case of money laundering against the defendants, Tahir said the scourge of money laundering being one with global impact, the Nigerian courts could not afford to treat with levity the pronouncements of courts of countries such as the UK where the offences originated from.
He maintained that the prosecution had proved all the offences charged in accordance with the requirement of the law.
The anti-graft agency had on January 15, 2016, arraigned Metuh and his firm, Destra Investments Limited, before Justice Abang on seven counts, including money laundering involving $2m cash transaction.
After the prosecution closed its case with eight witnesses, the defence lawyers raised a no-case submission contending that the evidence led by the prosecution did not link Metuh and his firm to the alleged crimes.
Justice Abang subsequently dismissed the no-case submission in a ruling delivered on March 9, 2016 and called on the accused to open their defence.
Metuh and his company appealed against Justice Abang’s ruling to the Court of Appeal and lost.
The Supreme Court on February 9, 2018 dismissed the separate appeals filed by Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, unanimously affirmed the May 25, 2016 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
The Court of Appeal had dismissed the appeals for being incompetent, and went on to uphold the March 9, 2016 ruling of Justice Abang
On September 27, 2019, Metuh concluded his defence after he testified as the 15th defence witness.
His firm, Destra, also closed its defence on October 7, 2019 with only one witness.
Parties to the case adopted their final written addresses on November 26, 2019 and the judge then adjourned till February 25, 2020 for judgment.