28 February 2013

Nigeria: Court Refuses to Quash N1.3 Billion Subsidy Fraud Against Oil Marketers

Justice Lateefa Okunnu of an Ikeja High Court Wednesday refused to quash a N1.3 billion fuel subsidy charge preferred against two oil marketers, Aro Sunday Bamidele and Abiodun Kayode Bankole by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The oil marketers were charged to court alongside their company, A.B.S Investment Company Limited on an 18-count charge bordering on conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretence, forgery and uttering.

The anti-graft agency had alleged that the defendants fraudulently obtained N1.3 billion from the Federal Government for the purported importation of 30 million litres of petrol.

Justice Okunnu in her short ruling on the Notice of Preliminary Objection filed by counsel to the defendants, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), held that it was lacking in merit.

The judge dismissed Idigbe's arguments that the charge against his clients was incompetent because the EFCC failed to obtain a fiat from the Attorney General of Lagos State.

She ruled that the EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) were empowered to prosecute criminal offences under state laws even without a fiat from the state's attorney general.

"Section 211 (1) of the Constitution allows for circumstances in which any other body other than the Attorney-General can institute criminal proceedings against a person. "The EFCC Act which is an Act of the National Assembly also empowers the agency to prosecute criminal matters under a state law," Okunnu said.

The judge held that the EFCC Act and the 1999 Constitution were superior to the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State 2011.

While also dismissing the argument by the defence that the EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) was not competent to prosecute the defendants, Justice

Okunnu said the anti-graft agency was at liberty to engage the services of private persons in prosecuting its matters with or without a fiat from the state Attorney General.

The judge also refused to strike out counts 5 to 18 in the charge which Idigbe had claimed were brought under a repealed law.

She said the alleged offences were committed before the Criminal Laws of Lagos State 2011 came into effect and it was proper that they are charged with the law that was in force, which is the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State 2003.

"The defendants will be prosecuted under the law that was in force at the time the alleged offences were committed in the interest of fair hearing," she said.

The judge further held that the charge which was signed by one Mr. L.A. Yusuf on behalf of the EFCC chairman was competent and properly before the court.

The matter was adjourned to May 20 for commencement of trial.

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