As security operatives arrest his fleeing son, Faisal
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
Erstwhile Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Taskforce Team, Abulrasheed Maina, on Thursday, collapsed before the Federal High Court in Abuja at the resumed proceeding of the 12-count money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him.
Maina, who is facing trial alongside his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Limited, slumped beside the dock where he was permitted to sit by trial Justice Okon Abang.
The former pension boss had on Wednesday after the anti-graft closed its case with nine witnesses, told the court that he would enter a no-case-submission to the charge against him.
It was his position that the EFCC failed to adduce sufficient evidence to prove essential ingredients of all the allegations it levelled against him, and as such, he could not be compelled by the court to open his defence to the charge.
He, therefore, persuaded the court to allow his lawyer, Mr. Anayo Adibe, to enter his no-case-submission orally.
However, when the case was called on Thursday, Maina’s lawyer, Mr. Adibe, told the court that his client would not be able to proceed with his application.
Abide said he was unable to prepare the no-case-submission owing to the fact that he was not availed with Certified True Copies, CTC, of all the records of proceedings of the court in the matter.
The defence lawyer was still praying the court for an adjournment, when his client, Maina, landed on the floor with a thump.
Some lawyers and officials of the Nigerian Correctional Service, NCS, quickly rushed to his aid, a development that forced the trial court to temporarily suspend its proceedings.
Medical personnel from the court were later brought to the scene in a bid to resuscitate the Defendant who was propped up to a sitting position, on the bare floor, by prison officials.
When the court resumed its proceedings around 11am, Maina was not yet back in the courtroom.
Reacting to the situation, EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Farouk Abdullah, urged the court to proceed with the matter by foreclosing Maina’s bid to enter the no-case-submission, since he was not ready.
He argued that it was contradictory for Maina’s lawyer to in one breath claim that his client had no case based on the totality of evidence that was laid against him, and at the same time, insisting that he could not proceed because he was not furnished with an entire record of proceedings in the matter.
Asked by the Judge if he noticed that the Defendant fell down in the course of the proceeding, EFCC’s lawyer, said: “My lord, I saw that the Defendant fell down and I do not know the reason.
“I have seen medical personnel of this Court attending to him outside. But as it relates to the business of the day, I know that it can continue regardless of the fact that Defendant fell in court. I rely on section 266 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015”.
Turning to Maina’s lawyer, the judge also asked him if he noticed that his client fell down.
Responding, Adibe, said: “My lord, I noticed that the Defendant collapsed and I submit with all due respect that it is only the living that can stand trial.
“My lord I do not know if he is dead because the Defendant has not returned to the court. The presence of Defendant in court for his trial is very necessary as it touches on the jurisdiction of this Court.
“My lord, the Defendant falling down in the course of proceedings, brings to question his health status on whether he is fit to stand trial or not
“I agree totally that it is a medical report of an expert that my lord will consider and not an argument of counsel. But I will most humbly urge the court to order that the Defendant be taken to a medical facility, to ascertain his capacity, health-wise, to continue this trial.
“This can take just a few days. We need to certify whether he is fit to continue this trial”, he pleaded.
In a bench ruling, trial Justice Abang refused the application for an adjournment.
The court however held that since the Defendant was not back for the continuation of the proceedings, it would not foreclose his right to make the no-case-submission.
Justice Abang stressed that Certified True Copies,CTC, of all the records of proceedings Maina’s counsel requested from the court, were ready since December 8.
The trial judge further confirmed in the open court from all the Registrars that Maina’s lawyer failed to return to pick up the compiled records.
Justice Abang said he earlier declined to accede to a letter Maina’s lawyer wrote to the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court for the records because his name was mentioned in the letter, rather than the number of his court.
He faulted the claim by Maina’s lawyer that he was not notified by the court that the records were ready.
The court held that the onus was on the defense lawyer to inquire whether the requested records were ready or not.
Though the court described the adjournment request as “a deliberate ploy to delay the trial”, it, however, held that since the Defendant was not back in the courtroom, his right to make a no-case-submission would be preserved till December 21.
EFCC had in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/256/2019, alleged that Maina used a bank account that was operated by his firm and laundered funds to the tune of about N2billion, part of which he used to acquire landed properties in Abuja.
It told the court that Defendant used fictitious names to open and operate various bank accounts, as well as recruited his relatives that were bankers to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channelled.
The Prosecution further alleged that Defendant used fictitious and “briefcase companies” to siphon over N14bn from the federal pension fund.
In a related development, the EFCC, on Thursday, confirmed to the court that Maina’s son, Faisal, who was declared wanted after he jumped bail, has been arrested.
It told the court that 21-year-old Faisal, who had since June 24, failed to appear for his own trial on a separate three-count money laundering charge, was apprehended by security operatives on Wednesday night.
Justice Abang had in a ruling on November 24, revoked his bail, even as he issued a bench warrant for security agencies to arrest him wherever he is found.
The court equally summoned the member representing Kaura-Namoda Federal Constituency, Umar Dan-Galadima, who stood surety for the Defendant, to show cause why he should not be remanded in custody or made to forfeit N60million bail bond on the head of the Defendant, to the Federal Government.
Relying on section 352 (4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, Justice Abang also gave the EFCC the nod to prosecute the Defendant in absentia.
The Prosecution had since closed its case against him after it called three witnesses that testified in the matter.
At the resumed proceeding in the matter on Thursday, counsel to the surety, Mr. M. E. Sheriff, urged the court to suspend the hearing of the forfeiture case against his client in view of the arrest of the Defendant.
He said: “My lord, I was reliably informed that Defendant had been arrested. He was arrested last night and he is in custody”.
Though he confirmed the development, EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Farouk Abdullah, said the Defendant has not been handed over to the agency.
“He is not in our custody yet, but we got information unofficially that he has been arrested”, the Prosecution counsel added.
On his part, Mr. Adibe who announced his appearance for Faisal, also applied for suspension of the committal/forfeiture proceeding against the surety “to allow the court to ascertain the authenticity or otherwise of the Defendant’s status”.
In a bench ruling, Justice Abang dismissed the adjournment request and ordered the surety to move the application he filed to show cause why he should not forfeit the bail bond to FG.
The court subsequently fixed December 21 for both counsel to the EFCC and that of the surety to adopt their final written addresses.
EFCC alleged that Maina’s son had sometimes between 2013 and 2019, received the sum of N58.11million, being proceeds of a corrupt act by his father.
He was also accused of failing to properly declare his assets before the EFCC.
Before he was released on bail, the Defendant was initially remanded in police custody after the prosecution notified the court that he was being investigated on allegation bordering on his alleged possession of an illegal firearm.
Faisal had reportedly pulled a gun to challenge operatives of the Department of State Service, DSS that arrested his father at a hotel in Abuja on September 30, 2019.
It will be recalled that his father, Maina also jumped bail and was later arrested in the Niger Republic and extradited back to the country by Interpol.