A Federal High Court in Abuja, on Wednesday, struck out one of the nine counts of $1.6bn crude oil fraud instituted against businessman, Jide Omokore, and five others.
The Judge presiding over the case, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, in a ruling, struck out the eighth count after hearing an application by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, who had alleged that she was indicted in the particular count without an opportunity to defend herself.
The six, named as defendants in the case, include Omokore, his two companies, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited.
The other defendants are a former managing director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Victor Briggs; a former group executive director, Exploration and Production of NNPC, Abiye Membere; and a former manager, at the NNPC, David Mbanefo.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had preferred nine counts of criminal diversion of about $1.6bn, alleged to be part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government, against the six defendants.
Alison-Madueke, who was said to be currently in the United Kingdom facing some legal proceedings, was not listed among the existing six defendants in the case to defend the charge, but she was, together with Briggs, Membere and Mbanefo, in count eight, accused of aiding Omokore in the commission of money laundering offence.
The offence she and others were accused of was said to be contrary to section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended and punishable under section 15 (3) of the same Act.”
But the former minister, through her lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), on September 18, filed an application seeking among other prayers, an order directing an amendment to the charges, by adding her name as the seventh defendant to enable her to defend herself with respect to the eighth count.
Arguing the application on Wednesday, Ikpeazu said, “Count 8 having been brought against the applicant, can the applicant be validly kept out of this trial having regard to the nature of the count? We ask the court to answer in the negative.”
But opposing the motion, the EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. M. S Abubakar, said the applicant was by her application “impliedly raising the issue of proper parties before the court”, he said, “does not arise in criminal trial.”
In his ruling, Justice Dimgba noted that the argument canvassed by the EFCC was credible but expressed concern about why the prosecution chose to include the former minister’s name as a defendant in the eighth count, yet refused to have her named as a party on the charges “to enable her appear to clear and defend her name.”
He asked, “How can she appear to clear her name to a count when her name by the deliberate action of the prosecution has been left out of the charge?”
Ruling further, he said the position that met the justice of the case was to strike out the eighth count in order to preserve the rights of the prosecution, the defence and the former minister.
He ruled, “That solution lies in striking out count number eight entirely from the amended charge dated August 4, 2017, and I therefore accordingly strike out count number eight from the amended charge.”
Source: ( Punch )