Asaba Federal High Court Quashes Charges Against Ibori

James IboriDetails of proceedings at Asaba: Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court, Asaba, arrived in court 9.30 am and  intoned this is the ruling and delved straight into the matter, starting with how the suit went from the Federal High Court, Kaduna to Asaba.
The issues on which everything depended, as made out by the Judge were these:
•    Whether the EFCC made any prima facie case on any or all the charges.
•    Whether any of the accused or all the accused persons have been linked with the commission of any crime as charged.
•    Whether it is immaterial that Delta State has not complained about any missing money.

The Judge accepted Ibori’s counsel’s argument that for money laundering charges to hold, underlining criminal charges, and predicate offences such as incidence of corruption, abuse of public office, resources gotten from illegal acts or whether any persons was aided by any person to disguise money from an undeclared origin.  Here, the Judge held that to merely say that money was paid from a government account into another account is no proof of money laundering.
He said: “It is worthy of note that there is no disagreement on the well-defined position of the law. The divergence is how it applies to this case. The Judge then ruled that going by Sections 27 and 28 of the Evidence Act, “That an affidavit shall not contain extraneous matters”. He also talked about the ejusdem generis as argued by EFCC counsel, that issues of money laundering could be proved from the transfer of money alone. My view is all encompassing. Perhaps the drafters of the EFCC Act would have criminalised every transfers of money, if they wanted all such transfers to be criminal acts. But they did not, and the rule applies without exception as EFCC Act mentioned any other illegal act – even remotely connected with a crime”. Thus, he ruled that the legal authority sited by EFCC on the ejusdem generis was “unnecessary and inappropriate”.  He said that an accused must be sufficiently linked to a crime but that this has not been done
On the charge that money was paid into Ibori’s personal account at Guarantee Trust Bank, from Delta State’s account, the Judge said that EFCC only attached bank statements showing lodgements made but never showed any crime, and that nobody was questioned over that, not the Delta State official and not a bank official. So, no criminality was showed. He said: “apart from the statement of account, I’ve seen no evidence, no statements, and even in the two statements of Ibori, he was not asked to give details about any inappropriate payment into his private account. Nothing was shown pertaining to a crime. The fact of the origin of the money is important to prima facie evidence of a crime. So I have no hesitation to quash this particular charge”.
On the charges that some money was fraudulently paid into Prof. Amos Utuama’s Prime Chambers’ accounts, the Judge said: “I have reviewed the statements of accounts. I have read all the witness statements and those from Prime Chambers. All payments made were official and receipted for, and no payment was made to third parties, and no payment came from a criminal act. Prof. Utuama too was by then not under immunity; yet he was not questioned.  Mere payments do not amount to money laundering. However I feel obliged to say that a transfer of money may become an illegal act but such money must derive from illegal acts first. So I rule that the charges are defective. No iota of evidence in the proof of evidence.
On allegations that money was illegally paid to  a travels agency, Travels and Tours Ltd, the Judge ruled that the Delta State official who made the lodgements for the travel tickets showed that he was paying for real tickets and there was no fraud involved, and that EFCC did not contradict him in any way.
On the aspects of the case concerning Ms. Adepimpe Pogoson, the Judge said that “bank statements, deposit slips, company registration and incorporation did not in any way implicate Ibori as having anything to do with the company under focus, and the Directors of the company were not charged and nobody’s witness statement said anything in opposition.

As earlier said in this ruling, the ingredients that some persons must have benefitted, and that those same persons are charged for conspiracy destroys that charge. There is no evidence too that the first accused (Ibori) benefitted from any contract to any company. I have examined the accused person’s bank deposits. There is no contradictory evidence that the second accused was a contractor with Delta state as stated clearly by the accused”.
On the celebrated bribery allegation that Ibori attempted to bribe Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, the then EFCC chairman, with USD 15 million the Judge said: “it is shocking that though the evidence are statements from Nuhu Ribadu, and two EFCC operatives, Ibrahim Lamorde and James Garba to the effect that they collected the alleged money from Andy Uba, yet, Andy Uba’s statement was not collected to show what came from Uba, to show who gave Uba the money and for what purpose. Without Uba’s evidence those of EFCC operatives are worthless evidence”.

The Judge also noted that though Ibori was questioned on July 4th 2007 by the EFCC, he was not questioned about that bribery allegation, though it was alleged to have happened in Aril 2007, and that curiously too, Ribadu’s statement as well as those of Lamorde and Garba were made on December 12 2007, a day after Ibori was arraigned in Kaduna court.
On Ibori’s relationship with MER Engineering and money laundering charges against him and the company, the Judge ruled that “evidence proffered are statements of witnesses and statement of accounts.

Documents submitted that showed that (Ibori) was a Director of the company  but resigned his directorship on becoming Governor. Also there is no evidence of any illegal act. Letter shown to court confirmed that Chevron, Shell, NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), Church oil and Gas and ventures paid money into the company’s account for a contract performed. No evidence to show illegal payment”.
On Ms. Udoamaka Okoronkwo, the second accused, the Judge said that the allegation was that money was illegally paid into her account. He said: “The second accused has been shown to be a contractor. It is confirmed that all relevant documents have been shown to EFCC. There is no correlation between the accounts and dates. The witness statements showed that there was real contract and lodgements deposited.  Second Accused thereafter issued cheques to various persons such that the account was depleted from N21 million to N4 million but nothing was paid out to (Ibori). Really there was no evidence of illegal act or that Ibori even benefitted in any way or money funnelled into his account”. 
In conclusion the Judge said: “Prosecution failed to show critical collaborative evidence. Thus, I accordingly hold that the prosecution has failed to make a prima facie case in any or all of the 170 charges, so I quash and dismiss all the 170 count charges. So the second point becomes otiose”.         

Tony Eluemunor,