By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, convicted and sentenced former National Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, to 39 years imprisonment for money laundering.
The court, in a judgment by Justice Okon Abang, found Metuh and his firm, Destra Investment Ltd, guilty on the entire seven-count charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against them.
Justice Abang held that the anti-graft agency successfully proved that the erstwhile PDP spokesman unlawfully received N400 million from the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, prior to the 2015 presidential election, without contract approval or execution.
The court noted that evidence before it established that the fund was electronically wired from an account that ONSA operated with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to Metuh, via account no. 0040437573, which his firm operated with Diamond Bank Plc.
EFCC had alleged that the N400 million, which was released to Metuh and his firm by the former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) was part of about $2.1 billion earmarked for the purchase of arms to fight insurgency in the North-East.
In his judgment that lasted over six hours, Justice Abang held that since Metuh denied having any form of the contractual relationship with the ONSA, he ought to have known that the said fund paid to his firm, formed part of unlawful activity by the then NSA.
He said there was no evidence to corroborate Metuh’s claim that fund was only released to him on the order of former President Goodluck Jonathan for a “special national assignment” that had to do with security challenges that bedeviled the nation at that time.
Justice Abang held that the proof of evidence before the court showed that contrary to Metuh’s claim, the fund was used to enhance the political fortunes of PDP before the 2015 general election.
He noted that from materials placed before the court, many PDP chieftains benefited from the N400 million largesse, adding that some of the beneficiaries included Chief Tony Anenih, who got N21.7 million, and former Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Kema Chikwe, who got N5 million.
The trial judge held that Metuh lied to the court when he claimed that he was not aware that the fund was paid to him from the ONSA account with CBN since banks send alert to their customers by default.
Besides, the court wondered why Metuh failed to compel ex-President Jonathan to appear as a witness to corroborate his claim, noting that though he initially moved to summon the ex-President, he, however, abandoned the idea halfway without excuse.
The court further observed that though Dasuki was on November 1, 2017, subpoenaed to appear as a witness in the matter, the defense failed to confront him with the e-payment mandate from the ONSA to establish that it was based on Jonathan’s directive.
The trial judge said it was hard for the court to believe that ex-President Jonathan would authorise N400 million on mere verbal approval.
He said: “Therefore, the only evidence to show the actual source of N400 million is the e-payment mandate and the statement of account showing an inflow of N400 million from the account of ONSA domiciled at CBN.”
He held that since ONSA is not “a charitable organisation established to dish out funds,” Metuh, being aware of the inflow of the N400 million, took no step to confirm why the fund was paid to the account of his firm but went ahead to dissipate it.
Justice Abang agreed with the EFCC that it was unlawful for the former NSA to have in breach of the public trust reposed on him, misappropriated public funds in favour of Metuh and his firm.
He dismissed Metuh’s contention that he could not be convicted on a predicate offense that was committed by Dasuki.
“The prosecution need not wait till the conviction of Col. Dasuki, otherwise the administration of criminal justice will be in jeopardy”, the judge added.
Guilty of engaging in an illicit transaction
Likewise, the court found Metuh guilty of engaging in an illicit transaction that involved the exchange of $2million, in violation of extant financial regulations.
It noted that Metuh, on two occasions, gave $1 million to one Miss Nneka Ararume at his residence, with the fund exchanged and transferred to his account by Bureau de Change operators.
The court held that the 1st defendant engaged in such a mode of transaction in a bid to conceal the origin of the funds.
Meanwhile, shortly after the defendants were convicted on all the seven counts in the charge, their counsel, Abel Ozioko and Tochukwu Onwugbufor, SAN, pleaded the trial judge to tamper justice with mercy.
In their plea of allocutus, they drew the attention of the court to the fact that Metuh is a first time offender and a family man.
The defense lawyers prayed the court to take pity on Metuh whom they said had constantly suffered ill-health.
“A sentence of imprisonment will complicate his sickness,” Onwugbufor begged, even as he urged the court to be lenient and exercise discretion to award only fine against the defendants.
The prosecution counsel, Mr. Tahir Sylvester, however, urged the court to allow itself to be guided by section 416 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
To pay N375m to FG
In his sentence, Justice Abang handed Metuh seven years on counts 1, 2, 4 and 7 of the charge, five years on counts 3 and three years on counts 5 and 6.
He also ordered Metuh to pay a total sum of N375 million to the coffers of the Federal Government, while the firm was ordered to pay N25m with respect to both counts 5 and 6 of the charge.
Justice Abang directed that the firm should be wound up with all funds standing to its credit forfeited to the government.
He held that the sentence should run concurrently starting from the day of the judgment.
According to the trial judge, “The fact of this case has revealed a story of shame and has reflected the moral decay of the time and age we live in, in this country. Dissipating of public funds, recklessly, by those that occupy positions in the trust is an endemic disease that has eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society”.
He said the problem requires “urgent and quick diagnosis,” adding that “drastic situation requires drastic action.”
Justice Abang stressed that Metuh should have been sober and remorseful when he was initially confronted by the EFCC instead of proving “stubborn.”
“He rather became hardened, difficult and joined issues with the team of investigators and even destroyed part of the evidence”.
He also recalled how Metuh “used every opportunity open to him to humiliate the court through hopeless and frivolous petitions,” saying “this case is a lesson to others.”
I’ll file an appeal — Metuh
Meantime, Metuh who remained calm while the judgment lasted, through his team of lawyers, vowed to challenge it at the Court of Appeal.
It will be recalled that Metuh was initially arraigned on January 15, 2016, and subsequently re-arraigned on February 18, the same year on an amended seven-count charge.