By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Friday, fixed November 8 to deliver judgement in the money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina.
Trial Justice Okon Abang okayed the matter for judgement, after he dismissed an application the Defendant filed to be allowed to re-open his defence to the 12-count charge the anti-graft agency entered against him and his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Limited.
EFCC had in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/256/2019, alleged that the former pension reform bos 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 the 1st Defendant (Maina) 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 maintained that the Defendants committed criminal offences punishable under sections 11(2) (a), 15(3), and 16(2) (c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, and also acted in breach of the Advance Fee Fraud Act.
The Defendants, who were arraigned on October 25, 2019, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Meanwhile, midway into the trial, Maina jumped bail and escaped from the country.
Though the court okayed his trial in absentia and issued a warrant of arrest against him, Maina, was subsequently re-arrested in Niger Republic and returned back to the country on December 4, 2020.
EFCC had earlier closed its case after it called a total of nine witnesses, even as the court ordered Maina to open his defence to the charge.
Following Maina’s failure to produce his second witness on July 16, trial Justice Abang closed his defence.
However, at the resumed proceedings on Friday, Maina, through his lawyer, Anayo Adibe, applied for the court to set-aside the order of foreclosure and allow him to re-open his defence.
In the application he predicated on section 36(4) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Maina insisted that he was not served with hearing notice on the day his defence was closed.
He prayed the court to in the interest of justice, allow him to produce more witnesses in defence of the charge against him.
While refusing the application, Justice Abang noted that evidence before the court proved that both Maina and his lawyer were duly served with the hearing notice.
He held that Maina’s application was an abuse of court process, stressing that it amounts to asking the trial court to sit on appeal over its earlier decision.
“The court is functus officio and lacks the jurisdiction to review its decision.
“The Defendant was offered opportunity to be heard, but he failed to avail himself of the opportunity.
“The only legal option available to the Defendant is to go to the Court of Appeal.
“The application is an abuse of court process and it is accordingly dismissed”, Justice Abang held.
The court further rejected plea by Maina’s lawyer for an adjournment, even as it gave EFCC the nod to adopt its final brief of argument.
Justice Abang subsequently adjourned the matter for judgement.
Maina had ealier applied for the court to compel 10 persons, among whom included human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, to appear as his witnesses in the matter.
Others he urged the court to summon as witnesses were the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the erstwhile Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emiefele, to appear as witnesses.
Maina had insisted that evidence of the subpoenaed witnesses would be crucial to his defence of the charge.
Others he also persuaded the court to compel to appear and testify in the matter, included M. Mustapha, Hassan Salihu, Mohammed Wakil, G.T Idris, Kenneth Amabem, Ibrahim Kaigama and the Director of Compliance at the CBN.
It will be recalled that the court had after Maina jumped bail, remanded his surety, Senator Ali Ndume, in prison custody.
The court initially held that Ndume who is representing Borno South should either produce Maina for the continuation of his trial, or forfeit his N500m bail bond.
Alternatively, it directed the sale of Ndume’s property situated at Asokoro in Abuja to raise the N500m it said should be paid into the Federation Account.
Meantime, after he regained his freedom on November 27, 2020, Ndume applied to withdraw from the case, a request that was rejected by the court.
The trial court had in a judgement on Thursday, convicted and sentenced Maina’s son, Faisal, to 14 years imprisonment for money laundering.