A’Court okays ex-AGF’s trial after N6.4bn refund
The Court of Appeal in Abuja has overturned a lower court's decision to prevent the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from launching civil or criminal proceedings against Jonah Otunla, a former Accountant General of the Federation.
According to the EFCC, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal held on Monday, January 30, 2023, in a judgment marked CA/A/657/2021, that Otunla failed to prove that he and the EFCC had a non-prosecution agreement.
Wilson Uwujaren, the anti-graft agency's spokesperson, revealed this in a statement obtained by our correspondent on Wednesday night.
Uwujaren stated that the court upheld the arguments of the EFCC's lawyer, Sylvanus Tahir, and ruled in favor of the commission on the four issues identified for resolution.
"Justice Danlami Senchi, who read the judgment, noted that Otunla provided no written commitment, other than his words and those of his lawyer, that such an agreement existed," he said.
"Justice Senchi ruled that Otunla could not stop his prosecution simply by claiming that there was an agreement, the existence of which he failed to prove with credible evidence."
In this case, there is no evidence to support the respondent's (Otunla's) claim that he will not be prosecuted and that no criminal or civil proceedings should be instituted or initiated against him. There is no plea bargain or documentary evidence pertaining to the President's Panel for Fund Recovery.
"On the whole, the appeal is meritorious and it is allowed. The judgment of the Federal High Court, in suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/2321/2021, delivered by honourable Justice I. E. Ekwo on July 16, 2021, is hereby set aside."
He pointed out that the panel's other members, Justices Stephen Adah and Elfreda Williams-Daudu, agreed with the lead judgment.
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According to Uwujaren, the EFCC investigated Otunla in two cases: the alleged diversion of about N24 billion intended for disengaged staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria and the N2 billion allegedly received from the National Security Adviser's office.
He also stated that on July 16, 2021, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja upheld Otunla's claim of an existing verbal agreement between him and the then-acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, that he would not be prosecuted if he made a refund to the federal government.
"Justice Ekwo, in the 2021 judgment on the suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/2321/2021 filed by Otunla, held among others, that, in light of the assurance given to him by Magu, informing him of his refund of the money, he could no longer be prosecuted for his actions while in office between 2011 and 2015," Uwujaren said. In an affidavit, Otunla claimed that Magu promised him that if he returned funds traced to him and companies linked to him and his associates, he would not be prosecuted.
"He stated that sometime in 2015, he was invited by a team of EFCC's investigators, probing alleged diversion of funds from the office of the ONSA, and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria pension funds. Otunla claimed that during the course of the investigation, he met with Magu, who told him in person to "refund the monies linked to your companies and nobody will prosecute you."
"He stated that, based on Magu's promise, he had a reconciliatory meeting with the team of investigators, during which he immediately agreed to make some funds available as refunds.
"In accordance with the agreement, Otunla stated that one of the companies linked to him, Stellar Vera Development Ltd, refunded N750 million, another company, Damaris Mode Coolture Ltd, refunded N550 million, and the two firms later made an additional joint refund of N2,150 billion.
"At one point, he raised several manager's cheques for N10 million in favor of the EFCC, which he handed over to the Economic Governance Section," he said. Otunla stated that he refunded N6,392 billion to the Federation Account through the EFCC."
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