N22.8bn Fraud: We are not ready for full trial yet, ex-Air Force Chief, Amosun, others tell court

federal-high-courtA former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosu (retd.) and ten others who are standing trial before a Federal high court sitting in Lagos over alleged stealing of N22.8bn public fund, on Tuesday, told the trial court that they were not yet ready for full trial in their case.

The accused persons who requested for an adjournment in the case said they needed more time to negotiate for soft landing with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) prosecuting them.

Specifically, they told the court that they had commenced negotiation otherwise called plea bargaining but that they were yet to reach a consensus.

Plea bargain is judicial tool used to settle criminal cases in advanced countries.

It had been used in a number of cases as well in Nigeria but not many Nigerians felt it was well deployed by the EFCC.

Plea bargaining is a  negotiated agreement between a prosecutor and a criminal defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offence or to one of multiple charges in exchange for some concession by the prosecutor usually, a more lenient sentence or a dismissal of the other charges.

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One of the defence counsel, Mr. Norrison Quakers (SAN), gave the hint on the step the accused persons were taking to resolve the case instead of going through a rigorous trial which might take many years to conclude.

Quaker spoke on Tuesday at the resumed proceedings in the case before Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Amosu is being tried alongside two other officers of the Air Force – Air Vice Marshal Jacob Adigun and Air Commodore Gbadebo Olugbenga.

Besides the three officers, eight other corporate individuals were also charged with them.

They were Delfina Oil and Gas Limited, Mcallan Oil and Gas Limited, Hebron Housing and Properties Company Limited,  Trapezites BDC, and Fonds and Pricey Limited.

Among other things, the EFCC accused them of conspiring with one another on March 5, 2014 to convert N21.5bn belonging to the Nigerian Air Force to their personal use.

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The alleged act, according to the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, is a violation of Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.

But upon their arraignment on June 26, 2016 the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge, following which Justice Idris admitted Amosu, Adigun and Olugbenga to a bail of N500m each with two sureties in like sum.

But on July 8, 2016, the defence counsel, comprising Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), Quakers, Mr. Kemi Balogun (SAN) and Mr. A . Etuokwu, informed the court of their clients’ intention to enter plea bargain.

They sought an adjournment to perfect their bail condition and to perfect negotiations with the EFCC.

But at the resumed proceedings on Tuesday, the EFCC lawyer, Oyedepo, told the court that he was ready to open his case against the defendants and had already brought two witnesses to court for trial to commence.

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Oyedepo said the EFCC had discharged its obligation by serving the proof of evidence on the defendants.

But responding, Ayorinde told the court that the matter was only adjourned till Tuesday for mention and that the case could not be heard.

He said the record of the court could bear him witness.

In his own submission, Quakers aligned himself with Ayorinde, adding that the defendants were still in plea bargain talks with the EFCC.

In a short ruling, Justice Idris said he found from the court’s record that the matter was adjourned for mention and not for trial.

He consequently granted the prayer of the defence counsel for an adjournment.

He adjourned till October 20, 21 and 24, 2016 for trial.