BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA – The Appeal Court in Abuja, yesterday, discharged and acquitted the Vice Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market, Hon. Chris Emeka Azubuogu over allegations that he dishonestly converted and used the sum of $4,095 given to him by the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, for a conference in the Dominican Republic.
Azubuogu was charged and arraigned alongside the Chairman of the House Committee, Hon. Herrman Hembe, before an Abuja High Court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Though the accused lawmakers, urged the high court to quash the charge over the failure of the anti-graft agency to establish a prima-facie criminal case against them, their application was refused, even as the trial court also dismissed their no-case submission.
However, in the lead judgment read yesterday by Justice Amiru Sanus, the appellate court, maintained that the trial court erred in law when it dismissed the appellant’s (Azubuogu) no-case submission even though the prosecution failed to prove the essential elements of the offense of dishonest conversion.
According to Justice Sanusi, “the Prosecution Witness 1(Pw 1) is an investigator with the EFCC and under cross examination he admitted that it was impossible for the applicant to have travelled to the Dominican Republic for the conference, as at the time the estadcode was paid to him on the eve when the conference was supposed to end.
“They further admitted that the second accused (Azubuogu) person had offered to return the estacode, PW 4, a staff of SEC under cross examination admitted that when an estacode is collected and the person did not travel, another trip would be arranged for him, and the person can return the said money at any time.
“It is evident that from the incontrovertible pieces of evidence, that there is no evidence before the trial court to prove that the appellant committed the said offense, it is evident that the second accused person had directed that the estacode be returned to SEC” the court held.
Justice Sanusi further noted that “there was ample unsubstantiated and unchallenged evidence at the end of the prosecution’s case that there was no prima facie case neither was there a justifiable evidence to continue with the case. The most likely thing for the trial judge was to strike out the case. I resolve the two issues in favour of the appellant. Therefore the appellant is hereby discharged and acquitted.”
It would be recalled that a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory presided over by Justice Peter Kekemeke had on June 26, 2013, ruled on the no-case submission filed by Azubuogu through his Counsel Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN.
The high court judge held that EFCC, successfully established a prima facie case against the applicant.
Specifically, EFCC, alleged that Hembe and Azubuogu, misappropriated the sum of $4095 (Four thousand, Ninety Five Dollars) an equivalent of N600,000 estacodes given to them by the SEC to travel to Dominican Republic for a conference.
In the course of hearing on the matter, an operative of the EFCC Udoh Anietan who was led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Mr. Chile Okoroma, told the court that the travelling ticket and estacode meant for the second accused person (Azubuogu) to travel for the conference which was between October 16 and 19, 2011, was given to him on the night of the 19th, through the clerk of the committee when the conference had ended.
On cross examination, counsel to the 2nd accused person, Mr, Ikpeazu, SAN, asked Udoh to look at exhibit J which is was a letter from All States Travels and Tours, the witness thereafter, admitted that Azubuogu did not have any contact whatsoever with SEC as it related to the said conference.
He also admitted the complaint against the 1st accused arose from the public hearing of the House held on March 15, 2012, adding that “in the course of investigation we retrieved documents from SEC which showed that the 2nd accused was also scheduled for the same conference, they were supposed to embark on the journey from the 16-19th October 2011.
“Our investigation showed that the estacode meant for the 2nd accused person was delivered to Femi Ogunsanya the Clerk of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market on October 19, 2011, the day the conference was supposed to end. I was not present when Ogunsanya gave the money to the 2nd accused person but he admitted to receiving the money.
On whether he came across any document from SEC requesting that the accused persons return the estacodes, the witness, said he did not see such letter and that there was no such letter from SEC.
Udoh also admitted that the Director-General of SEC, Mrs. Aruma Otteh, occupies a position in EFCC as according to him “I am aware as the Act setting up the EFCC provides that there should be a representative from SEC, and the DG is representing SEC on the EFCC Board”.
On whether he was aware that said $4095 which was delivered to Ogunsanya on the 19th was to enable the 2nd accused to attend the conference due to commence on the 17th, the witness, replied in the affirmative.
Earlier, the PW-1, Austine Adache, while under cross examination by counsel to the 1st accused, Mr. Joseph Okutekpa, SAN, admitted that the estacode was paid on October, 19, 2011, but said he would not know whether it was paid to Hembe.
According to Adache “the said estacode was collected on the 19th October 2011, but I would not know when it was paid to Hembe, the estacode was not collected by Hembe but by the Committee Clerk Femi Ogunsanya. It is possible that a public officer can be called upon to retire estacode”, he added.