…pleads innocence to EFCC’s charge
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Friday, arraigned the wife of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Cecilia Osipitan, on a nine-count money laundering charge.
The anti-graft agency alleged that Defendant, being the managing director of a firm, PJO Ventures Limited, in 2014, took possession of the sum of N6billion that was paid into the account of the company from Best worth Insurance Brokers Limited, being part of funds that were earmarked for the payment of outstanding insurance premium claims of deceased and incapacitated staff of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.
EFCC alleged that Defendant used the fund and acquired several landed properties in highbrow areas in Lagos and Ibadan, Oyo State.
The firm, through whose account the fund was allegedly diverted, was cited as the 2nd Defendant in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/9/2021.
The Prosecution maintained that the Defendants reasonably ought to have known that the fund formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act, to wit; criminal breach of trust.
It said the Defendants committed an offence contrary to section 15(2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (As amended) Act, 2012, and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act.
Meanwhile, the Defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge.
While the 1st Defendant was represented by Mr Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, the second Defendant was represented by Mr Bode Olanipekun, SAN.
Immediately after their arraignment, counsel to the 1st Defendant, Oyetibo, SAN, prayed the court to grant his client bail on self recognisance or in the most liberal terms, pending the hearing and determination of the case against her.
On its part, the EFCC, through its lawyer, Mr Benjamin Manji opposed the bail request.
Manji told the court that the 1st Defendant breached the terms of the administrative bail that was granted to her by the EFCC.
He further refused to make herself available for trial until a team of operatives stormed her residence in Lagos to effect her arrest.
The Prosecution counsel told the court that it took the intervention of the 1st Defendant’s lawyer to secure her presence for the arraignment.
EFCC told the court that it has already lined up nine witnesses to testify against the Defendants.
However in a 12-paragraphed further affidavit she personally deposed to in support of her bail application, Mrs Osipitan, told the court that contrary to EFCC’s claim, she was in the United States of America when the agency summoned her to appear at its office.
She told the court that upon her return to the country, she voluntarily reported herself to the EFCC, in the company of her lawyer, and also volunteered her statement.
Defendant denied the allegation that she resisted arrest on March 19, 2021, stressing that she was in Abeokuta to receive treatment for her leg and back pain when she was informed that there were armed men at her residence in Lagos.
She averred that upon receiving the information, she immediately returned to Lagos and reported to the EFCC the next day.
She told the court that the EFCC had in 2017, sought an order of interim forfeiture against her properties.
According to her, the Federal High Court ruled against the Commission and refused the application for permanent forfeiture of the properties.
“Since then, the EFCC has not contacted me nor the 2nd Defendant”, she added.
Meanwhile, in his ruling on Friday, trial Justice Inyang Ekwo, held that he was minded to exercise his discretion to release the 1st Defendant on bail.
“The essence of granting bail is to enable a Defendant to have sufficient time and material to prepare for the case against him or her”, the Judge added.
Consequently, he granted Defendant bail in the sum of N200million with one surety in like sum.
The court held that the surety must be a responsible citizen who must own a landed property which value must not be below the bail sum.
It ordered that the title deed of the property must be deposited and also verified by the Deputy Registrar of the court.
Justice Ekwo further ordered Defendant to surrender her travelling documents and ensure that she does not travel out of the country.
He ordered the Registrar of the court to notify the Nigerian Immigration Service that the international passport of the Defendant is with the court.
Besides, he held that since the arraignment took place on a Friday, Defendant would be released to go home, based on an undertaking by her counsel.
The trial Judge stressed that if by March 31, the bail conditions were not perfected, the EFCC should take Defendant into its custody.
The matter was subsequently adjourned to May 24, 25 and 26 for trial.
Count one of the charges against the Defendants read: “That you CECILIA OSIPITAN being Managing Director of PJO Ventures Limited on or about the 18th day of December 2014, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, took possession of the sum of N6. 000.000.000.00 (Six Billion Naira) only paid into PJO Ventures Limited’s Skye Bank Account No. 1771645235 from Best worth Insurance Brokers Limited’s Skye Bank Account No. 1771645118 being part of the funds earmarked for the payment of outstanding insurance premiums and claims of deceased and incapacitated staff of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), which sum you reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act, to wit; Criminal Breach of Trust and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15(2)(d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (As amended) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act”.