A Federal High Court in Lagos has adjourned till October 7, 2016 to rule on two applications seeking to change the guilty plea of four companies which on September 15 admitted laundering a sum of $15, 591,700.
Wife of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, is claiming ownership of the money, which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had since frozen in four Skye Bank accounts opened in the names of the four companies.
The four companies are Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development & Investment Co. Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Avalon Global Property Development Company Limited.
They had on September 15 pleaded guilty before Justice Babs Kuewumi to conspiring with three others to launder the money, which the EFCC described as part of proceeds of theft.
Those charged with them are a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to ex-President Jonathan, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa; a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs; and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku.
Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku were listed as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively in the charge.
But as opposed to the four companies who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering charges, the trio of Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty.
The guilty plea was taken on behalf of the four companies by one Friday Davies, Agbo Baro, Bioghowri Frederick and Taiwo Ebenezer, who the EFCC said were listed as directors in the companies at the Corporate Affairs Commission.
Following the guilty plea by the companies, the court adjourned till Tuesday for the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, to review the facts of the case after which the court would decide their fate.
At the resumed proceedings on Tuesday, however, Dudafa and Briggs, through their lawyers, Gboyega Oyewole and Tochukwu Onyiuke respectively, brought separate applications, urging the court to change the plea of the four companies from guilty to not guilty.
Oyewole argued that there was no document before the court to prove that Davies, Baro, Fredrick and Ebenezer were authorised by the companies to take a plea on their behalf.
He told the court that the four persons had in their statement to the EFCC stated that they were neither directors of the companies nor had anything to do with the companies.
He also urged the court to note the fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by Patience, claiming ownership of the $15.5m over which his client was being prosecuted.
“Neither the Federal Government nor any of its agencies; neither any state nor its agencies have claimed the fund as their own or that it was stolen from them,” Oyewole added.
He said in the face of Patience’s claim over the money, allowing the guilty plea by the four companies and convicting them of money laundering charges would amount to “a gross abuse of the judicial process and an attack on the principle of fairness and justice.”
He said his client was afraid that the guilty plea entered by the four companies would adversely affect him since the proceedings were joint proceedings and the first count bordered on conspiracy.
He said the defendants had earlier been arraigned before Justice Abdulaziz Anka, who sat as a vacation judge, and that though the companies pleaded guilty before the judge, Justice Anka used his discretion to change the plea to “not guilty” after noting the circumstances surrounding the case.
On his own part, Onyiuke challenged the jurisdiction and competence of Justice Kuewumi to even entertain the arraignment of the four companies in the first place.
He argued, “The condition precedent to this honourable court assuming jurisdiction, to wit: authority to represent the 4th to 7th defendants by their purported representatives further to Section 477(3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, was completely lacking.”Punch