Court rejects Diezani’s bid to join $1.6b crude fraud case

A FEDERAL High Court in Abuja has refused the request by former Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke to be joined as a party in the trial of businessman, JIde Omokore and five others accused of being involved in a $1.6 billion crude oil fraud.

In a ruling yesterday on her application, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba said her request, if granted, would alter the progress being made in the ongoing trial of Omokore and others.

The judge struck out count eight of the nine-count charge on which Omokore and others are being tried. Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s name featured in the case.

Justice Dimgba said the prosecution was at liberty to file a separate charge, reflecting Mrs. Alison Madueke as a defendant to enable her participate in the proceedings and defend herself.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in July last year, filed the nine-count charge against Omokore and others, accusing them of engaging in criminal diversion of about $1.6 billion said to be part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government.

Other defendants in the case include former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NNPC) Victor Briggs; a former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the NNPC Abiye Membere; a former Manager, Planning and Commercial of the NNPC David Mbanefo and two companies – Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited.

Although it did not name Mrs. Alison-Madueke as defendants in the charge, the EFCC, in count eight of the charge, accused Mrs. Alison-Madueke of working with Biggs, Membere and Mbanefo to aid Omokore in the commission of money laundering offence.

They were said to have committed an offence contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.”

Trial had since commenced in the case, with the prosecution calling three witnesses, who have also been cross-examined by the defence. But, in August this year, Mrs. Alison-Madueke filed an application to the court seeking to be made a party in the case.

She accused the prosecution of deliberately excluding her as a party in the case, despite the allegation against her in count eight, to deny her the opportunity of defending herself and clearing her name.

Mrs. Alison-Madueke, represented by Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), urged the court to direct the prosecution to amend the charge to include her name as defendant and to mandate the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to ensure her presence in court on the next hearing date of October 5.

The prosecution objected to Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s prayers, arguing that it was a ploy for her to evade her impending trial in the United Kingdom (UK).

The EFCC, in a counter-affidavit, gave details of its efforts, before now, to have audience with Mrs. Alison-Madueke in the course of investigating the case, but was denied by her agents.

It stated that the ex-minister absconded from the country to avoid being investigated and prosecuted for her alleged offence. It said the application was intended to stall proceedings in the trial of her alleged associates in Nigeria.

The EFCC said: “The applicant (Mrs. Alison-Madueke), who knows fully well that she is on bail in the UK, where she is being investigated for several financial crimes, and that she would not be able to leave that country in view of the on-going investigation and imminent trial, is seeking the order of this court to include her name on the face of the charge in order for her to escape from investigation and prosecution in the United Kingdom.

“The investigation already conducted pursuant to paragraph eight above by the commission (EFCC) revealed a monumental case of fraud, abuse of office, stealing of public funds, laundering and illegal acquisition of properties and the instant charge is just a little fraction of the fraudulent activities linked to the applicant.”

After listing to Ikpeazu (for Alison-Madueke) and Mohammed Abubakar (for the EFCC) argued in favour and against the application, Justice Dimgba refused to order the prosecution to include the ex-Petroleum Minister’s name in the charge.

He, however, held that granting Mrs. Allison-Madueke’s prayer will present very great complications for all parties in this case”

The judge said granting such amendment to the charge by inserting the former minister’s name in the list of defendants implies that the trial will have to start afresh, a development, he said, would undermine the progress made in the case and result in the loss of the enormous resource of time that has been invested in the trial.

Justice Dimgba said the solution before him was to strike out the count in which the ex-minister was named in order to preserve the rights of the prosecution, the defence and the applicant.

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