Justice Rilwan Aikawa of a Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Wednesday slammed former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, for trying to abuse court process and deliberately attempting to evade justice in the United Kingdom.
Justice Aikawa, while delivering a ruling on Alison-Madueke’s application to be joined as a defendant in a money-laundering case, said the move was a misuse of court processes and a deliberate ploy to run away from justice in the UK.
“This is not the proper time to join the applicant as a defendant,” the judge said.
“The applicant has aroused my curiosity as to why she waited this long before coming up with the application for joinder. The court lacks the power to interfere with the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
“The application for joinder is lacking in merit and same is hereby dismissed.”
Alison-Madueke is being investigated for money laundering in the UK where she currently resides.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had instituted a five-count charge of money laundering suit amounting to N500 million against a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dele Belgore and a former Minister of National Planning, Abubakar Suleiman.
The former petroleum minister’s name appeared in the charge sheet as an accomplice and was tagged by the EFCC as being ‘at large.’
Consequently, Alison-Madueke filed an application through her lawyer, Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN, seeking to be joined as a defendant in the suit and urged the court to mandate the EFCC to list her as a party.
“My Lord, we have a motion dated September 29, 2017, and an affidavit of 16 paragraphs, together with a written address, which we rely on,” Ikpeazu, had said.
“We have received the counter affidavit of counsels, but there remains yet, one consideration which should touch the conscience of parties.
“In the 4th count of the charge, the applicant’s name was mentioned clearly, and there is no alteration to the fact that she has been charged; it simply suggests that it is a consummated complaint.
“By the definition of Section of 494(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA) a defendant is any person against whom a complaint or charge is made, while a charge refers to an allegation that any named person has committed an offence.
“From count one to count four, the name of the applicant was mentioned as an accomplice. It would be in the interest of justice to join her in the charge.
“We will have no objections if the applicant’s name is extracted from the charge, then, trial can proceed. Otherwise, she should be included in the charge.
“I know that she will be happy to come and face the trial.”
In objecting to the motion for joinder, counsel to Mr. Belgore, E. O Shofunde SAN, argued that the applicant was not a necessary party to the suit since in the end, the court would only decide the guilt or innocence of the first and second accused who were charged.
He contended that by the combined provisions of sections 216(2), 221, 273, 274, and 494(1) of the ACJA, only the prosecution could exercise the power to amend a process during trial.
Mr. Shofunde further argued that it would be incongruous for any other party to seek an amendment of a criminal charge, adding that it would amount to a waste of judicial time if that amendment is allowed since progress has made in the case.
Responding, counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, in opposing the application for joinder noted that the state can only amend a charge for the purposes of adding offences and not defendants if trial had commenced.
While insisting that if an amendment is allowed at this stage, it will occasion a miscarriage of justice, Mr. Oyedepo added that several attempts were initially made to interrogate the applicant, but that she fled to London after she got wind of the move by the EFCC, and had since then, carefully avoided any meeting with the Commission.
“It is misconceived and too late in the day, for the applicant to now seek to be joined in the charge when she is already under investigation in London.
“Whenever the applicant returns to Nigeria, she can still be tried, as time does not run against the prosecution in criminal trial.”
According to the amended charge, Mrs. Alison-Madueke was alleged to have conspired with Messrs. Belgore and Sulaiman on or about March 27, 2015, to directly take possession of N450 million, which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of proceeds of unlawful act.
The trio were also alleged to have taken the said funds in cash, which exceeded the amount authorized by law, without going through the financial institutions.
Messrs. Belgore and Sulaiman were also alleged to have paid N50 million to one, Sheriff Shagaya, without going through any financial institution.
The offences are said to have contravened the provisions of Sections 15(2)(d), 1(a), 16(d) and 18 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.