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Dasuki pleads not guilty to money laundering, kicks against secret trial

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Nigeria’s former national security adviser pleaded not guilty to money laundering Monday in connection with $423,000 in U.S. dollars and Nigerian naira seized at his homes. 

This comes after the government has filed fresh charges of alleged money laundering against Sambo Dasuki, who was arraigned in September on a single count charge of illegal possession of firearms.

The government also requested that witnesses against Mr. Dasuki be given special cover, including use of facial mask.

Mr. Dasuki was arrested in August by the State Security Services, shortly after he was removed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki however denied charges of illegal possession of an arms cache including assault rifles and a submachine gun found when security agents raided two of his homes in July.

At the Federal High Court, Dasuki’s lawyer M.S. Labaran objected to a prosecution request for a secret trial to hide the identity of witnesses. He also asked the court to return Dasuki’s seized passport, saying he needs to travel abroad for medical care. The judge adjourned the case to Wednesday.

Dasuki, 60, was a key adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan and had taken over the role of the Ministry of Defense in procuring weapons. He was called before a Senate committee last year to explain an incident in which South Africa seized $9.3 million in cash flown on a private jet and a $5.7 million bank transfer that South Africa blocked, saying it was intended to illegally purchase arms. Dasuki said the deals were legitimate.

President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into military purchases in his campaign to curb corruption and ensure the armed forces are properly equipped to fight Boko Haram’s 6-year-old Islamic uprising that has killed 20,000 people. Soldiers say the extremists are better armed than they.

Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper ran a column Monday calling Dasuki “a victim of political persecution.”

One of Buhari’s spokesmen, Garba Shehu, has accused Dasuki of plotting a coup against Buhari during March elections. Shehu called it Dasuki’s second coup against Buhari, referring to the colonel’s alleged arrest of Buhari during a 1985 palace coup that ended Buhari’s brief tenure as a military dictator.

On September 1, the prosecution counsel, Mohammed Diri, told the court that Mr. Dasuki was charged with the unlawful possession of firearms without a licence. The former NSA pleaded not guilty.

The judge granted Mr. Dasuki bail on self-recognition but ordered that his passport and other travel documents be deposited with the deputy court registrar while the case was adjourned to October 26 and 27 for definite hearing.

On resumed hearing Monday, M.S. Labaran, appearing for the prosecution, announced that the one-count charge against Mr. Dasuki had been expanded to include charges bordering on illegal possession of various amounts of local and foreign currency in his Abuja residence and family house in Sokoto.

He said keeping the various amount of foreign currencies was contrary to Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.

He also requested that the trial be conducted in secrecy by providing special cover for witnesses from using public routes.

He requested the use of private witness room, use of facial masks, and also urged the court to allow only accredited members of the media to cover the trial.

In a counter motion, one of the counsels to Mr. Dasuki and former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Joseph Daudu, objected to the request for special cover for prosecution witnesses in the case on the ground that the case was harmless within a democratic setting.

Mr. Daudu said even during military rule, such trials were held openly.

He said in a democracy, rule of law would be the greatest casualty if such trials are made in secret.

“In a criminal trial, the ability of the defence counsel to confront the prosecution witness is pivotal,” he told the court.

He said the identity of the witnesses which the prosecution sought to hide was already in the public domain.

“We consider the trial as harmless to the witnesses. If you make the witnesses anonymous then we may lack the ability to conduct background checks. Even trial of treasonable felony and coup d’état the witnesses are not hidden and we are in a democracy.

“Also for the fact that there has not been cases in this court where witnesses are being molested and in this case it will be a case of injustice if the defence counsel and witnesses are known and the prosecution witnesses who are armed and can protect themselves are shielded. I think all the motions and counter-affidavit have been charged and this is purely an academic exercise,” he argued.

Mr. Daudu also asked the court to release the travel documents of the accused to him so that he would be able to travel abroad for medical check-up.

According to him, Mr. Dasuki was billed to travel a day before his arrest for medical treatment but the arrest and trial had so far prevented him from doing so.

Mr. Labaran, who appeared for the prosecution, therefore requested for adjournment to be able to react to the motion for the release of Mr. Dasuki’s travel documents.

Justice Ademola Adeniyi, who expressed surprise at the new charges, adjourned the case to Wednesday, October 28, 2015 for ruling on prosecution’s request for secret trial and Dasuki’s request for his travel documents to be released to him.

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