By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, discharged and acquitted the former Head of Service of the Federation, Mr Stephen Oronsaye, of the N2 billion money laundering, charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him.
The court, in a judgement that was delivered by trial Justice Inyang Ekwo, held that the anti-graft agency failed to by way of credible evidence, establish its case against the former HoS and his co-defendants.
Justice Ekwo stressed that the totality of the evidence the EFCC adduced in the course of the trial was not convincing enough to move the court to convict the defendants.
According to the court, the prosecution, failed to effectively discharge the evidential burden that was placed on it by the law.
Consequently, the court discharged and acquitted the defendants of the 27- count charge the EFCC preferred against them.
Oronsaye was charged before the court in 2015, alongside the Managing Director of Fedrick Hamilton Global Services Limited, Mr. Osarenkhoe Afe and three companies- Cluster Logistic Limited; Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited, and Drew Investment & Construction Company Limited.
EFCC alleged that the defendants had between 2010 and 2011, used the firms and siphoned public funds totalling about N2billion, through procurement fraud.
It alleged that the funds were subsequently diverted into private accounts by the defendants.
However, the erstwhile HoS who adopted his final brief of argument through his team of lawyers led by Mr. Ade Okeanya-inneh SAN, prayed the court to discharge and acquit him of the charge.
He maintained that the anti-graft agency failed to prove his complicity in the alleged fraud.
Insisting that the entire proof of evidence that was adduced by the EFCC did not establish a prima-facie case against him, Oronsaye, urged the court to dismiss the charge in its entirety.
He noted that though the prosecution initially entered a 49-count charge against him, it subsequently withdrew 22 of them upon realising that they were not only baseless, but also not supported by any evidence.
On its part, the EFCC, through its lawyer, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe, urged the court to uphold its case and accordingly convict the defendants.
EFCC maintained that the gamut of documentary and oral evidence it produced before the court was capable of establishing the guilt of the defendants.
It, therefore, prayed the court to not only convict them, but also make necessary order for restitution.
EFCC further predicated its request for conviction on alleged confessional statement it said was made in the course of the trial by the 2nd defendant, Afe.
It will be recalled that the EFCC closed its case against the defendants after it called a total of 21 witnesses that testified before the court.
Thereafter, the court ordered the defendants to open their defence.
While testifying as his own witness, Oronsaye, accused the agency of deliberately witch-hunting him, following a presentation he made before the National Assembly while he was still in office.
He told the court that he ran into trouble after he defended an Executive Bill on the EFCC, at a point when the Commission itself mounted strong opposition against the said Bill.
According to him, shortly after he returned to his office at the end of his presentation at the NASS, the anti-graft agency, summoned him to its office.
He told the court that upon his arrival at the EFCC office on December 7, 2013, he was confronted with all manners of allegations.
Oronsaye told the court that the EFCC had yet to show him a copy of the petition that led to his trial.
The defendant, while enumerating some of the services he rendered to the nation, recalled that he had, at a time, headed five special presidential committees.
He insisted that throughout his tenure in office, he neither signed any payment mandate nor had any dealings with the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP.
“Contrary to EFCC allegation against me, only staff of the accountant general of the Federation have power to sign payment mandate”, he added.
While denying the allegation that he had on several occasions, transferred public funds from Union Bank to Unity Bank, the former HoS, also refuted the claim that he operated 66 different bank accounts.
He told the court that EFCC conducted a shoddy investigation before the charge was entered against him.
The defendant further tendered several documents in evidence, among which included a circular on contract threshold that was signed by the then Secretary General of the Federation, Mr. Yayale Ahmed.
Other documents the defendant tendered before the court, were EFCC’s interim investigation report on alleged conspiracy and diversion of public funds, as well as the judgement that was delivered in the case of the jailed former Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, Abdulrasheed Maina.