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Thursday, 26 October 2017

$15.5 mlion: 4 firms linked to Patience Jonathan seek to change guilty plea

$15.5 mlion: 4 firms linked to Patience Jonathan seek to change guilty plea

Patience Jonathan

A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday heard a motion seeking to set aside the guilty plea of four firms allegedly used to launder $15.5 million belonging to a former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.

The motion was filed by a lawyer, Amajuoyi Azubuike Briggs, who is standing trial alongside Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan and one, Adedamola Bolodeoku for allegedly concealing the total sum of $15,591,700.00 which they knew formed part of the proceed of an unlawful act, through various banks in Nigeria.

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The four firms pleaded guilty to laundering the money upon their arraignment alongside the trio.

The firms; Pluto Property and Investment Company Ltd, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Limited, Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Avalon Global Property Development Company, pleaded guilty through their representatives.

They were represented by Friday Davies, Agbor Baro, Dioghowori Frederick and Taiwo Ebenezer respectively.

The four firms were later convicted on the alleged offence following the review of the facts of the case by the prosecution.

Dissatisfied, Dudafa and Briggs filed separate applications seeking to reverse the plea at the court. The applications were however dismissed by Justice Babs Kuewumi on the ground that the same issues were being canvassed by the accused persons at the Court of Appeal.

However, the Court of Appeal in its judgement on June 15, 2017, directed the lower court to hear Briggs’ motion seeking to reverse the firm’s plea.

At the resumed hearing of the matter on Wednesday, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, sought the court’s permission to continue with the examination-in-chief of the first prosecution witness.

The request was however opposed to by the defence lawyers.

In particular, Briggs’ lawyer, Ige Asemudara, drew the court’s attention to the Appeal Court’s judgement which ordered the hearing of his client’s motion challenging the guilty plea of the four firms.

He also disclosed that he had filed another motion seeking to set aside the conviction of the four firms.

In his own submissions, the lawyer representing the four firms, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) equally notified the court of the existence of a motion he filed since May 8, 2017, seeking to set aside the guilty plea of the firms.

According to him, the court cannot proceed to trial when the plea of the firms which are in joint trial with the other accused persons is being contended.

Lawyers to the other accused persons, Gboyega Oyewole (SAN) and Joseph Okodieme also spoke against the matter proceeding to trial.

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After listening to the submissions of parties in the matter, Justice Kuewumi opted to hear Briggs motion as directed by the Court of Appeal.

In moving the motion, Briggs’ lawyer, Ige Asemudara, said the main issue is that the plea entered into by the firms wherein his client is the secretary does not comply with Sections 477 (3)and 478 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.

While urging the court to set aside the guilty plea of the firms, the lawyer said the prosecution is yet to file any counter-affidavit against the motion.

In his response, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to rely on its record with regards to the service of the charge on the directors of the firms as well as their appearances before the court.

He added that in view of the firms’ plea which was made by the directors and upon the admission of the facts reviewed by the prosecution leading to the firm’s conviction, the motion is a violent abuse of court’s process.

Oyedepo said the applicant (Briggs) equally lacked the ‘locus standi’ to complain about the plea of his co-accused because the plea of an accused person is peculiar and personal to him or her.

The court thereafter reserved ruling on the motion while hearing of other pending applications has been fixed for November 22.

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