Justice Abubakar Talba of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Gudu, Abuja, on Monday warned counsel to the accused persons in the ongoing trial of a syndicate that allegedly swindled the Federal Government to the tune of N1.2 billion in a pension scam not to broach the idea of plea bargain in his court.
The accused persons – Ibrahim Ahmed Mazangari, Muhammed Sani Sulaiman, Hajia Fatima Mazangari and Saleh Yerima Tsojon – are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, on a 29-count charge bordering on conspiracy and collecting by false pretence.
The accused persons, who were offered biometric contract by a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaye, to regularize names of pensioners on the pensions’ payroll, allegedly added names of their own fake pensioners and collected unearned pension.
The Counsel to the first and fifth accused persons, Sale Sule, had informed the court that his clients had opened a plea bargain discussion with the prosecution.
The disclosure infuriated, Justice Talba, who forbade him from ever bringing up the subject of plea bargain in his court, saying, “Don’t mention plea bargain here. I don’t want to hear about it”.
At the resumed hearing Monday, counsel to the second accused person, Haruna Eze, pleaded that the case be stood down, as the lead counsel, Mr. Sule, had not yet arrived the court before the proceedings started.
Also, counsel to the third accused person wrote a letter to the court, saying that he was ill.
However, prosecution counsel, Mr. Atolagbe, told the court that “I just received the letter, asking for adjournment. Given the nature of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Section 396 (3) and (4), which stipulates speedy trial in any criminal matter, I urge my Lord to adjourn the matter to tomorrow because our witnesses are available. Also, on the issue of stand down, I don’t see it as necessary”.
Justice Talba adjourned the matter to February, 23 and 24, 2016 for continuation of trial.