By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Wednesday, struck out a charge that indicted the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke to the illegal diversion of about $1.6billion from proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba struck out the allegation contained in count-eight of a money laundering charge marked FHC/Abj/CR/121/2016, which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, lodged before the court.
The court premised its decision on the fact that though the former Minister’s name was mentioned in the charge, she was however not listed as one of the defendants.
Those already on trial over the alleged fraud are an oil mogul and ally to the ex-Minister, Mr. Jide Omokore, former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, Victor Briggs, former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the NNPC, Abiye Membere, former Manager, Planning and Commercial of the NNPC, David Mbanefo.
The defendants were hitherto answering to a nine-count criminal charge.
However, the court, by its ruling yesterday, reduced charges against them to eight-counts, having expunged the aspect that accused Diezani of aiding the defendants to divert funds, contrary to section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended and punishable under section 15 (3) of the same Act.
Justice Dimgba took the decision after he rejected an application the embattled ex-Minister filed through her lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, seeking to be joined as a defendant in the case.
Ikpeazu, SAN, specifically approached the court for “an order pursuant to section 36(1), (5) & (6) (a-e) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended; sections 216(1), (2), (3) & (4) and 217 of the Adminsitration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015- amending the charge by adding the applicant, Diezani Alison-Madueke, as the 7th defendant, or as a defendant (as the case may be), having regard to count 8 of the charge in which her name appears as a defendant”.
He also applied for an order “mandating the applicant to appear in court on the next adjourned date of October 5, 2017, to plead to the charge and in particular count-8, being a condition precedent for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the count.”