By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Supreme Court, yesterday, gave the Federal Government the nod to prosecute the eldest son of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Mohammed, over his alleged complicity in the illegal diversion of public funds to a foreign account that belonged to his father.
In an unanimous judgment yesterday, a five-man panel of Justices of the apex court, held that Mohammed has a criminal case to answer regarding the 123-count charge that was earlier preferred against him by the Federal Government.
Specifically, the charge pending against him before an Abuja High Court borders on criminal conspiracy, breach of public trust, receiving and helping to starch stolen funds abroad.
However, shortly after the government concluded plans to commence his trial, Mohammed, quickly ran before the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court to challenge the legality of the charge against him.
While challenging the jurisdiction of the high court to try him, the accused person, contended that since the stolen money had already been returned into the coffers of the government, he said it would be unjust and unlawful to subject him to the rigours of prosecution over funds not in his custody.
Arguing through his lawyer, Mr J.B Daudu, SAN, Mohammed, maintained that Section 5 of Decree No. 53 of 1999, prohibited FG from prosecuting an accused person who had forfeited money said to have been stolen.
Daudu argued that the late Head of State had immunity to stash the money away in private foreign bank accounts so as to take care of uncertainties associated with governance especially as it concerned threats by some Western nations as at that time. He urged the appellate court to among other things, determine whether any fund dealt with by his late father in his capacity as Head of State can be questioned by another administration in the face of all the Decrees that enabled him (Abacha), to exercise unlimited powers, as well as, whether the charge which was anchored on receiving stolen properties can be entertained by the High Court.
In its judgment, the appellate court dismissed his appeal as un-meritorious, saying “In the final analysis, there is nothing in the provision of Decree No. 53 of 1999 which inhibits the High court of the FCT Abuja from exercising its judicial power to try the appellant for the various criminal offences contained in the charges brought before it by the Attorney General of the Federation.”
Dissatisfied with the verdict, Mohammed, took the matter before the Supreme Court where he also failed again yesterday.
It was further his contention at the apex court that the charges pending before the High Court from which reference was made to the Court of Appeal related to assets that were previously disclosed on September 29, 1998 and October 2, 1998 and forfeited under Decree No. 53 of 1999.
He argued that the charge against him breached the undertaking or promise as stated in section 5 of the Decree to wit: “that there would be no prosecution as a result of the forfeiture.”
Mohammed also insisted that the immunity enjoyed by his father while in office extended to him and that having forfeited some of the family’s properties confiscated by the government, he should be exempted from prosecution in line with the provisions of Decree 53 of 1999.
Nevertheless, FG, through its lawyer, Mr Daniel Enwelom, told the apex court that the ex- head of state only enjoyed immunity while he was in power, adding that any one involved in a crime allegedly committed then, cannot be exempted from trial.
Therefore, FG, sought the dismissal of the appeal at the apex court, stressing that Mohammed still have a criminal case to answer pertaining to money laundering.
Delivering their judgment yesterday, the Supreme Court panel, threw out the appeal for being devoid of merit, even as it affirmed the decision of the appellate court.
Justice Suleiman Galadima held that Abacha or any other person mentioned in the Decree have anything to do with the property after forfeiture as the forfeiture itself was by the force of the Decree.