A Federal High Court in Abuja has declined to halt further proceedings in the trial of former Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu, for alleged money laundering involving about $9.8 million.
In a ruling yesterday, Justice Ahmed Mohammed held that although both parties had filed appeals before the Supreme Court, whose outcome would likely impact the case before him, he was constrained, by virtue of the provision of Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), to continue hearing the case as ordered by the Appeal Court.
Justice Mohammed noted that the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA and the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Olisa Metuh v. the Federal Republic of Nigeria had effectively outlawed the grant of stay of proceedings in criminal cases on grounds of the filing of an interlocutory appeal.
The judge held that although both parties were dissatisfied with the April 24, 2020 judgment of the Appeal Court in Abuja and had appealed the decision, the court can only comply with the provisions of the law.
He adjourned till July 8 for the defendant to enter his defence on counts three and four, which are now left in the original six-count charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Yakubu was arraigned on March 16, 2017, on a six-count charge of failure to make full disclosure of assets, receiving cash without passing through a financial institution, which borders on money laundering and intent to avoid a lawful transaction under law, transported at various times to Kaduna, the aggregate sum of $9,772,800 and £74,000.
The EFCC said the money was recovered by its agents from a safe allegedly hidden by the defendant in a house in a Kaduna State community.
On October 17, 2018, the prosecution closed its case after calling the seventh witness, Suleiman Mohammed (an EFCC operative), who gave evidence on how the commission’s officials, on February 3, 2017, recovered $9,772,000 and £74,000 stashed in a huge fireproof safe in a building belonging to the defendant at Sabon Tasha area of Kaduna State.
At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the defendant made a no-case submission, which Justice Mohammed partially upheld in a ruling on May 16, 2019.
The judge struck out two of the six counts contained in the charge and ordered Yakubu to enter defence in relation to the remaining four counts.
Justice Mohammed said: “I agree with the defence counsel that the prosecution has failed to prove the essential element of transportation of money on counts five and six. I, accordingly, discharge the defendant on counts five and six.
“Even though I am tempted to discharge the defendant on counts one to four, I am, however, constrained to ask the defendant to explain how he came about the money recovered from his house.
“Fortified with my position, the defendant is hereby ordered to enter his defence in respect of counts one to four.”
Rather than enter his defence as ordered by the court, Yakubu headed to the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
In a judgment on April 24, 2020, the Appeal Court partially upheld Yakubu’s appeal.
A three-man panel of the appellate court held, among others, that the prosecution was unable, by the evidence it led at the trial court, to establish a prima facie case against the defendant in relation to counts five and six.
The Court of Appeal then struck out counts five and six from the charge and ordered the case to be returned to the trial court for Yakubu to enter defence on the remaining two counts – counts three and four.
At the mention of the case yesterday, prosecution lawyer Mohammed Abubakar said both parties have appealed to the Supreme Court, and that both appeals at the Supreme Court have been entered and briefs of argument filed.
He added: “By the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA 2015 and the EFCC Establishment Act 2004, application for stay of prosecution shall not be entertained where there is an interlocutory appeal.
“However, in the instant case, whatever decision the Supreme Court might arrive at will affect this case in one way or the other.
“However, I am not making any application for stay of proceedings in view of the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA.”
Responding, lead defence lawyer Ahmed Raji (SAN) objected to the court staying proceedings in the case.
Raji referred to the provision of Section 306 of the ACJA and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Metuh v. FRN case and said: “I am therefore not surprised when Mr. Abubakar said he is not applying for stay of proceedings. I commend him.
“I would have loved to get a stay of proceedings, because my appeal has great chances of succeeding, which would have made it unnecessary for the defendant to enter defence in respect of the two remaining counts.
“Therefore, as a member of the Inner Bar, I owe it a duty to act, at all times, in accordance with the state of the law.
“We are therefore compelled to comply with the subsisting order of the Court of Appeal, mandating the defendant to state his side of the story in respect of counts three and four,” Raji said.