By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
Former Accountant-General of the Federation, AGF, Ahmed Idris, who was accused of siphoning public funds to the tune of about N109.4 billion, has approached the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for a plea bargain.
Counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, disclosed this at the resumed proceedings on a 14-count money laundering charge the anti-graft agency entered against the erstwhile AGF and three others before an Abuja High Court sitting at Maitama.
The other defendants on trial before the court are an aide to the former AGF, Mr. Olusegun Akindele; a director of the Federation Account, Mohammed Usman, as well as a company, Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange Limited, which allegedly served as the conduit pipe through which bulk of the stolen funds was diverted.
A plea bargain in a criminal trial is an arrangement that allows a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser offence in exchange for a more lenient sentence or an agreement for some charges to be dropped.
It enables both the prosecutor and the defendant to avoid a lengthy trial.
EFCC’s lawyer, Jacobs, SAN, told the court that the former AGF and his co-defendants had through a third party, requested to meet him to negotiate the plea bargain arrangement.
Jacobs told the court: “My lord, the defendants sent a third party to me that they wanted a plea bargain meeting and that they wanted to meet me.
“But my reply to them was that I could not meet them in the absence of their lawyers. By the nature of our calling, we must be open and transparent.
“Since section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act encourages settlement and plea bargaining, I told them to come with their lawyers and that I would also invite the investigators to come for the meeting.”
He further said though the meeting was to hold last Monday, a lawyer in the chambers of Chris Uche, SAN, who is representing the ex-AGF, came to his office to protest their exclusion from the arrangement.
He said: “One of the lawyers in the team of the 1st defendant, Mr. Kanayo Okafor, came to my office at the EFCC and protested that they were not carried along and that his client would not come for the meeting.
“I later spoke with the senior counsel, Uche, SAN, for more than 30 minutes over the matter and he protested that we did not invite them. It was at that point that I decided to call the meeting off, even though the senior lawyer eventually pleaded that it should go on.
“I called it off because in the first place, the meeting was at their instance. So, none of the defendants entered the EFCC premises or came for the meeting.”
However, the counsel that represented the ex-AGF in court yesterday, Mr. Goddy Uche, SAN, insisted that his client and his co-defendants were at the EFCC office for the meeting but declined to go further with the negotiation after they were asked to go to the office of the EFCC chairman.
Uche, SAN, had before the EFCC lawyer revealed that the defendant sought a plea bargain, alleged that the defendants were summoned by the anti-graft agency, a development he said made it impossible for him to discuss the issue of purported confessional statements the prosecution intended to tender in evidence before the court, with his client.
He said: “My lord, I could not interview my client on Monday as slated because he was at the EFCC but surprisingly, his lawyers were not carried along. We had thought that one of the prerequisite for charging a matter in court is that the prosecution has concluded its investigations.
“We find it contemptuous that a matter already before the court could be tried in the office of the EFCC chairman. That is not good practice. We were deprived of the opportunity to meet our client to be able to properly prepare for his defence.”
Consequently, following applications by the defence lawyers, led by Uche, SAN, and Ibrahim Ishiaku, SAN, trial Justice Adeyemi Ajayi adjourned further proceedings in the matter till October 4.
Meanwhile, Justice Ajayi had earlier in the proceeding yesterday, revoked the bail she earlier granted to the 3rd defendant, Usman, following his failure to arrive at the court room on time.
Usman was absent when the trial judge entered the courtroom around 9:20am, though his lawyer, Ishiaku, SAN, notified the court that he was held up in a gridlock.
Dissatisfied with the excuse, Justice Ajayi revoked the defendant’s bail and ordered his remand at Kuje prison.
Usman later arrived at the court, even as his lawyer, Ishiaku, SAN, persuaded the trial judge to vacate the order that revoked his bail.
The court had on July 28, granted the former AGF bail in the sum of N5bn with two sureties which it stressed must be a director and a permanent secretary.
The court equally granted the 2nd and 3rd defendants bail in the sum of N2bn each with two sureties that must be directors.
Justice Ajayi said she was inclined to adopt all the terms and conditions of the administrative bail the EFCC previously gave to the defendants.
As part of the conditions, the defendants were barred from travelling out of Abuja, even as they were ordered to surrender their international passports and undertake not to procure alternate passports during the pendency of the case.
The defendants were equally ordered to depose to an affidavit of assurance to abide by all their bail conditions.
The first prosecution witness, PW-1, Mr. Hayatudeen Ahmed had in his testimony before the court, narrated how the defendants allegedly pilfered about N84.7billion out of $2.2bn meant for nine oil producing states.
The witness, who is an investigative officer, said the ex-AGF was arrested, following the outcome of an investigation into a petition lodged against him by the Federal Treasury Concerned Staff Association.
He told the court that investigation revealed that the defendants had after the Federal Account Allocation Committee, FAAC, approved $2.2bn for the nine oil producing states, surreptitiously diverted N84.7bn out of it under the guise that it was for the settlement of consultants.
He told the court that a company floated by the 2nd defendant, Akindele, who was a technical assistant to the former AGF, was approved as the sole consultant for the deal.
According to the witness, the defendants sequentially withdrew funds from the Escrow account of FAAC and shared among themselves and other persons that included former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, and former deputy governor of Abia state, Chuks Akomas.
He told the court that his team of investigators uncovered that the former AGF used his own share of the loot to purchase properties such as the Gezawa Commodity & Exchange Market Ltd; Gezawa Integrated Farms Ltd; and Kano City Mall, some of which he said were acquired in the name of his family members.
The PW-1 said his team had in the course of the investigation, interrogated several persons, including a Kano-based Bureau-de-Change, BDC, operator, Beta. I. Kurah, who he said admitted that he received over N1.3bn from the former AGF, all in cash and in US dollars.
He said the BDC operator equally revealed that he made several payments, including the sum of N208million, into the account of Gezawa Commodity & Exchange Market Ltd, in Jaiz bank.