By Paul Michael, Abuja
A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, led by Justice Peter O. Affem, has upheld the appeal of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and dismissed the ruling of a Federal High Court in Lagos in the case involving a former Executive Director, Projects, Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) Tuoyo Omatsuli, over an alleged case of money laundering to the tune N3,645,000,000.00
Justice Festus Obande Ogbuinya in his judgement held that the ruling of the lower court dated November 11, 2020, discharging the respondent, Omatsuli, of the money laundering charges “is hereby set aside and he shall enter into his defence accordingly on the same counts.”
The Appellate Court, however, discharged Omatsuli on counts 27, 28 and 29 of the charge.
Omatsuli is facing trial alongside Francis Momoh, Don Parker Properties Limited and Building Associates Limited on an amended 45-count charge bordering on conspiracy and money laundering to the tune of N3,645,000,000.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Engr. Tuoyo Omatsuli, Don Parker Properties Limited, Francis Momoh and Building Associates Limited, between August 2014 and September 2015 at Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired to disguise the illegal origin of N3,645,000,000 (Three Billion Six-Hundred and Forty-Five Million Naira), being proceed of unlawful activity to wit: corruption and gratification; and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 of the Money Laundering Act 2011 as amended by Act No 1 of 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.”
Another count reads: “That you, Engr Tuoyo Omatsuli, between August 2014 and September 2015 at Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did procure Francis Momoh and Building Associates Limited to use the total sum of N3,645,000,000 (Three Billion Six-Hundred and Forty-Five Million Naira) paid by Starline Consultancy Services into the Diamond Bank Plc Account No. 0023785116 operated by Building Associate Ltd when you reasonably ought to have known that the said sum formed part of the proceeds of your unlawful activity to wit: Corruption and Gratification; and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 of the Money Laundering Act 2011 as amended by Act No 1 of 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.”
The defendants pleaded “not guilty” to the charges.
In the course of the trial, the prosecuting counsel, Ekene Iheanacho, had called 16 prosecution witnesses, the last being Segun Temitope, a staff of the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering (SCUML) who gave his testimony on July 7, 2020.
Rather than open their defence, however, the defendants filed a no-case submission, which was heard on October 12, 2020, while the ruling was reserved till November 11, 2020.
Justice Saliu Saidu in his ruling on November 11, 2020, discharged the first defendant, Omatsuli, saying, “I have gone through the charge preferred against the defendants as well as the evidence of all the 16 prosecution witnesses and I found no reason for the first defendant to enter the defence.
“Accordingly, the first defendant is hereby discharged.”
The Judge, however, held that the other defendants had cases to answer.
Dissatisfied by the judgement, the EFCC appealed the ruling of the lower court.
While dismissing the judgement, the Appellate court, also dismissed the applications of Momoh and Building Associates Limited seeking to set aside the ruling of the lower court on their no-case submission.
However, the appellate court, in its ruling affirmed the ruling of the lower court on the no-case submission filed by both Momoh and Building Associates on the grounds their appeal “is bereft of merit” and ordered them to enter their defence accordingly.
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