The Supreme Court of Nigeria, has upheld a Court of Appeal decision which set aside the ruling of a Federal High Court, Lagos, which cleared former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Sabit Ikuforiji, and Oyebode Atoyebi, of money laundering charges.
In a ruling delivered by Justice Inyang Okoro of the Supreme court, held that the appellate court was right in declaring that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had established a prima facie case against Atoyebi, an aide to Ikuforiji.
However, the apex Court has fixed January 15, to deliver ruling on a separate application filed by the former Speaker of Lagos State, Ikuforiji.
The Lagos Division of Court Appeal Court had, in November 2016, ordered that a fresh trial be commenced before another judge other than Justice Ibrahim Buba.
Justice Buba had on September 26, 2014, discharged Messrs. Ikuforiji and Atoyebi of a 54-amended count charge of conspiracy and laundering the sum of N500 million belonging to the Assembly.
The EFCC said the cash payments were above the threshold set by the Money Laundering Act without going through a financial institution.
The offences, according to the EFCC, contravenes the provisions of Sections 15 (1d) and 16(1d) of Money Laundry Act, MLA, 2004 and 2011.
The trial judge, who discharged the Speaker and Mr. Atoyebi, while ruling on a no-case submission filed by the accused persons held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against them.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, EFCC through its counsel, Godwin Obla, filed the Notice of Appeal dated September 30, 2014.
Obla asked the Court of Appeal to hold that Justice Buba erred in law when he held that counts two to 48 were incompetent because they were filed pursuant to Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 which was repealed by an Act in 2011.
The EFCC further argued that the lower court erred in law when it held that the provisions of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011 only applied to natural persons and corporate bodies other than government.
The commission also submitted that the trial judge erred in law when he held and concluded that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondents.
Following the decision of the Appeal Court against them, Messrs Ikuforiji and Atoyebi headed to the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the ruling of appeal court
According to the grounds of Appeal (nine in total) filed by Atoyebi before the apex court, the court of appeal “misdirected themselves in law” by concluding that his preliminary objection challenging the competence of some of the charges leant more on technicalities than substantial justice.
Atoyebi also stated that the appellate court erred in law when it held that Ikuforiji, who was the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly at the time, was an individual in his dealings with him.
He further stated that the court of Appeal erred in law when it held that there were no material contradictions in the evidence led by the EFCC witnesses as to render their evidence unreliable.
“The findings of fact by Buba (judge) which was not appealed against found that there was an admission against interest in the evidence of prosecution witness,” said Atoyebi.
“The trial court found that ‘both the evidence in chief and one extracted under cross examination of PW2 constitute an admission against the prosecution. The conclusion of the Court of Appeal amount to a review when there was no appeal against findings.”
But in its response, the EFCC held that the provisions of the Money Laundering Act are “clear as day.”
“There is no requirement of guilty mind or knowledge being part of the offence,” the Commission stated in its brief before the Supreme Court.
“The source of the cash payment is immaterial. As aptly held by the lower court, once the cash paid or accepted by either an individual or a body corporate without passing through financial institution is above the threshold amount, the offence is completed.”