By Abdulwahab Abdulah
Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos has dismissed the no-case submission filed by Emirates Airlines and four airport officials over alleged theft charges of $1.63m filed by the Federal Government against them.
Those officials ordered by the court to open their defence in the case are Abayomi Abiola, Isiaka Adedeji, Awonubi Abayomi and George Ikpekhia.
Joined with them in the charges were two companies, Pathfinder International Ltd., and Nigeria Aviation Handling Company Plc, whose no-case submissions were equally dismissed by the court.
The office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice had in 2009 charged the seven defendants with the alleged theft of $1.63m belonging to a business man, Prince Ikem Orji.
The eleven counts contained in the suit number- FHC/L/386c/09, filed against them before the court border on conspiracy, theft and money laundering.
In the charges, the Federal Government alleged that the defendants conspired among themselves to swindle Orji of his $1.63m under the false pretext that they would help him to keep the money and deliver same to him at Ghuangzhou, China.
The money was said to have been kept in one of the four bags, tagged, EK 428682, EK428683, E 650165 and EK 650161, which Orji kept with the defendants on the promise that they would help him to keep the bags intact for onward delivery to him in China.
The AGF claimed that the defendants committed the offence on December 19, 2007 at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.
In the ruling, Justice Idris dismissed the defendants’ no-case submission, holding that the prosecution had made a strong case against them to warrant them to defend themselves.
The judge held, “The prosecution called witnesses and tendered a number of exhibits, which I have thoroughly examined. Going through the evidence of these witnesses, it appears that if taken as unchallenged and uncontroverted, some link might be established between the defendants and some of the content of exhibits A1, A2, A3, A4 and A5.
“…For the reasons contained herein, I am of the view that the defendants have some explanations to make. The no-case submission is, therefore, overruled.”
In one of the charges, the four airport officials were charged with money laundering for their “failure to report an international transfer of the sum of $1.63m belonging to Prince Chu Ikem Orji, a sum above $10,000 required to be reported to the Central Bank of Nigeria by virtue of Section 2 (1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.”
The Federal Government alleged that the defendants acted contrary to Section 390(9) of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and were liable to be punished under Section 422 of the same Act.
The four airline officials were alleged to have violated Section 15(1)(e) of the Money Laundering Act Cap N30, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and were liable to be punished under Section 15(2)(b) and (3) of the same Act.
The defendants had upon their arraignment about eight years ago pleaded not guilty to the charges, following which the prosecution opened its case, calling three witnesses and tendering a number of exhibits.
Upon the conclusion of the prosecution’s case on October 18, 2016, the defendants, when called upon to defend themselves, filed no-case submissions, maintaining that the prosecution failed to make out any prima facie case against them to warrant them to enter any defence.
They contended that the evidence led by the prosecution was manifestly unreliable, adding that much of the evidence given by the prosecution witnesses had been discredited under cross-examination, while asking the court to dismiss the charges against them and discharge them.
The case was adjourned till June 21 and 23, 2017, for the defendants to open their case.