- As convicts approach Appeal Court
In what appears a dramatic turn, four companies convicted by a Federal high court Lagos after pleading guilty to the offence of laundering $15.591 million allegedly belonging to former First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan have hired fiery Lagos lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) to approach the Court of Appeal to upturn their conviction.
Bar and Bench Watch reports that four men who represented the companies, namely Friday Davis, Agbor Baro, Dioghowori Frederick and Taiwo Ebenezer, pleaded guilty to laundering the money when they were arraigned before Justice Babs Kuewumi of the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The court had also issued an order of temporary forfeiture on the said sum.
But with the engagement of services of Ozekhome, the court had overruled itself and had given Patience access to the fund.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which prosecuted the case was said to have fallen into fundamental error by being economical with the truth in the case, hence the reversal of the verdict.
The EFCC had also lost three other cases in a spate of one week or thereabouts.
Stakeholders including former President Olusegun Obasanjo had expressed concern over the trend, identifying shoddy investigation and perhaps lack of experienced lawyers in criminal jurisprudence to handle sensitive cases for the anti-graft agency.
Ozekhome who is handling the firms’s had boasted on air that he had defeated EFCC in court in recent times eight times.
He has taken up the case of the convicted firms again with an appeal seeking to upturn their conviction.
He is contending that the verdict of the trial court was devoid of legal substratum to sustain its holding.
Specifically, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said the identities of those who “purportedly” pleaded guilty on their behalf were “unverified.”
According to the firms, the representatives did not present any evidence that they were duly appointed.
The companies are Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited, Seagate Property Development and Investment Co. Limited, Trans Ocean Property and Investment Co. Limited and Avalon Global Property Development Limited.
They were arraigned along with a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamo Dudafa, a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku, who all pleaded not guilty.
In the notice of cross-appeal, Ozekhome is arguing that Section 477 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 requires persons seeking to represent corporate entities to have a statement of their appointment as the recognised representatives.
“The persons purporting to be representing the cross-appellants failed to produce such statement of appointment which needed not to be under seal.
By virtue of Section 478 of the ACJA 2015, the court ought to have entered a plea of ‘not guilty’ for the cross-appellants, rather than allow the unverified plea of ‘guilty’ by persons purporting to be representing the cross appellants,” the firm said.
Ozekhome recalled that Briggs had vehemently opposed the guilty plea and urged Justice Kuewumi to change it to “not guilty” because of the joint charge and the doubt about the representatives’ authenticity.
Among the grounds of appeal, Ozekhome argued that the learned trial judge erred in law when he failed to grant Briggs’ application seeking to set aside the plea of “guilty” by the representatives.