Pension Fraud: EFCC Arraigns Former Assistant Director, 2 Others

EFCC_IkuforijiThe Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 arraigned Phina Chidi, a former Assistant Director, Pension Department, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria, Franklin Nwankwo and Pam Investment Properties before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court on a 15-count charge of obtaining by false pretence and money laundering to the tune of N1.6 billion and $2 million.

Chidi was initially charged alongside Shuaibu Sani Teidi, former director, Pension Accounts, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria before Justice Adamu Bello.

Her re-arrangement followed the ruling of the court to split the charge in order to have each accused person stand separate trial for their alleged involvement in the pension scam.

Count two of the charge reads: “That you, Phina Chidi ( while serving as Assistant Director, Pension Department, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria), at various times between January 2009 and December 2010, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, obtained for yourself by false pretences and with intent to defraud, through fictitious contracts payments to Cenco Enterprises, various sums of money amounting in aggregate to N74, 350, 000.00 (Seventy Four Million, Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira only) from the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Pension Account held by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria, and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 1(1)(a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act,2006 and punishable under Section 1(30) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act,2006”.

The accused pleaded not guilty to all the charge when read to them,

In view of their plea, counsel to EFCC, Godwin Obla (SAN) asked the court for a date to commence trial.

However, counsel to the first accused person, Godwin Uche urged the court to admit his client to bail adding that he had earlier been granted bail in May, 2011 by Justice Adamu Bello.

Speaking in the same vein, N.H Nwankwo and Deji Akande counsel to the second and third accused persons prayed the court for similar relief. The prosecution raised no objection to their prayers.

Ironically, a surety to the first accused person, Mr Sony Erimi told the court that he wished to withdraw from being her surety saying he no longer wants to continue to play the role.

Justice Kolawole, after listening to the submission of all the parties adopted the bail terms formerly granted by Justice Adamu Bello by granting the accused persons bail in the sum of Ten Million Naira each and sureties who must be resident in Abuja.

He also ordered that Mr. Sony Erimi be discharged from the obligation of being a surety and his title documents released to him.

The case has been adjourned to February 4 and 5, 2015 for commencement of trial.

In a related development, the trial of Tahir Abdullahi whose company, Charo Bureau De Change was used to siphon money in the pension office in the office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria commenced with presentation of PW1, Mr. Bright Okunzuwa, Zenith Bank Zonal Compliance Officer, Maitama Branch, Abuja and PW2, Mr Oyedeji Olutobi Ecobank Compliance Officer who were both summoned to present some documents.

Okunzuwa who was led in evidence by counsel to EFCC, Obla presented affidavit attesting to the certificate of evidence which was admitted as exhibit 1. He also presented a letter written to Zenith Bank and addressed to Pension Fraud Unit of EFCC for account opening package of Charo Bureau de Change which was admitted as exhibit 1a series and bank statement admitted as exhibit 1b series.

During cross examination by counsel to the defendant, Nicholas O. Eku, the witness told the court that the content of the statement of the account is not known to him, and that he was aware of the threshold to report suspicious transaction. He further told the court that, he had no idea on how the account was run.

Olutobi, on his part, presented to the court an affidavit attesting to the certificate of evidence which was admitted as exhibit 1c, account opening package of Mr. Tahir Abdullahi as exhibit 1d, statement of the account from January 2007 to December 31, 2011 as exhibit 1e series.

Olutobi also told the court that he was not aware of any documents that was given to EFCC on suspicious transaction; that he was not also conversant with the contents of the statement of the account.

The case has been fixed for January 29, 2015 for continuation of trial.

The accused was arraigned by EFCC on January 8, 2014 on a one count charge bordering on obtaining by false pretence.

The count reads: “that you Garba Abdullahi Tahir at various times between 3rdJune 2009 and 17th May 2010 within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, obtained by false pretence and with intent to defraud from the Pensions Account, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria, various sums in the aggregate amount of N47,251, 345.00 (Forty Seven Million, Two Hundred and Fifty One Thousand, Three Hundred and Fifty Four Naira) and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 1(1)(a) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2006.”

Bayelsa Gov. Race: Court of Appeal Dismisses Sylva’s Suit Against Dickson

The Court of Appeal today dismissed the suit filed by former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva in his bid to unseat Governor Seriake Dickson at the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter.

This is about the fourth time Sylva would be challenging the candidacy of Governor Dickson as the flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2012 governorship election in the State.

Applauding the Judiciary for its forthrightness in upholding justice, Governor Dickson congratulated the third arm of Government for not allowing itself to be used as a tool to subvert justice, adding that, the Judiciary has remained the last hope of the common man.

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had in March last year also dismissed the suit filed by one Austin Ogionwo challenging the election of Seriake Dickson as the governor of Bayelsa State.

Delivering judgement on the suit, Justice Adamu Bello held that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to challenge the outcome of the primary election held on 19 November, 2011 having failed to participate in the said election.

The court also ruled that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has the right to conduct primary elections and also field any candidate of its choice for the purpose of any general election.

Court Acquits Ex-Minister Of N43million fraud

A federal High Court in Abuja has   acquitted and discharged former Minister of Works, Mr Hassan Lawal and a former bank official, Adesanya Adewale from the eight count charge bothering on conspiracy and corruption to the tune of N43 million slammed on them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The trial judge, Justice Adamu Bello, chided the anti-graft agency for a shoddy investigation.

Lawal and Adesanya had earlier pleaded not guilty when the charge was read to them, and consequently brought a no case submission after the prosecution had closed its case.

Ruling on the no case submission, Justice Bello held that the prosecution failed to prove the essential ingredients of money laundering before the court adding that the anti-graft agency did not present any evidence to prove that the transferred funds were derived from illegal and corrupt proceeds.

Dismissing the counts on conspiracy, the court held that having failed to prove that the money transferred was from illegal and unlawful sources, it can’t be proved that there was conspiracy between the 1st and 2nd defendants.

He also held that the charge of conspiracy to launder money failed in its entirety stating that from the exhibits before the court, there was nothing like conspiracy.

Lawal was alleged of misappropriation of funds meant for the rehabilitation of the Guto-Bagana Bridge across River Benue while Adewale, a former banker, was alleged to have assisted him to launder the money.

Senate To Approve Appointment Of Service Chiefs

A Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled that the appointment of all Service Chiefs by the President is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void without the approval of the Senate. 

Justice Adamu Bello, ruling on a suit filed by Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo challenging the appointments, on Monday, declared that the President of Nigeria cannot appoint service chiefs without the approval of the Senate.

Justice Bello then restrained the President from further appointing them except in consultation with the National Assembly.

Untill this ruling, the President is at liberty to appoint or sack Service Chiefs.

The Service Chiefs include the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Army Staff.

When contacted for the Presidency’s reaction to the ruling, the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Dr Reuben Abati stated that “the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice was still studying the ruling.”

The case was instituted in 2008 by Mr Keyamo against the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation and all service chiefs asking the court to determine whether going by the interpretation of the provisions of Section 218 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Section 18 of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, if the Nigerian President can appoint the service chiefs of the Federation, namely, the Chief of Air Staff, the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Naval Staff, without the confirmation of the National Assembly first sought and obtained.

He also asked the court to determine whether Section 18 (1) & (2) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 is not in conformity with the provision of the 1999 Constitution so as to fall within the category of existing laws under Section 315 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, that the President, may, by Order, modify its text, to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the Constitution.

Keyamo had approached the court following the appointment of service chiefs by late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua within his first year of assuming leadership of the country after his election at the 2007 Presidential election.

The Judge agreed with the plaintiff as he ruled a mandatory order for the President to seek and obtain the approval of the National Assembly in the appointment of service chiefs failure of which the appointment becomes illegal, unconstitutional and void.

Furthermore, the court held that section 18 (1) & (2) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, is in conformity with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution so as not to fall within the category of existing laws under Section 315 (2) – of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, that the President, may, by order, modify its text, to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the Constitution.

The court however declined the third prayer of Mr Keyamo, which sought the court to order the service chiefs appointed by the late President to vacate their offices noting that the relief had been overtaken by event as none of them is still in service

Police Pension Scam: Yusuf Challenges Right Of Court To Try Him

The re-trial of Mr John Yakubu Yusuf , a former deputy director  in the Police Pension Office , who is standing trial for a four count charge of false declaration of assets, has been stalled following an application by the defendant, alleging double jeopardy and challenging the jurisdiction of the court to try him.

A Federal Capital Territory High court in Abuja had in January, sentenced Mr Yusuf to six years imprisonment or the option of N750, 000.00 fine for criminal conversion of N23.3 billion police pension fund for personal use.

At the resumed hearing for the prosecution witness on Monday, counsel to Mr Yusuf told the court that his application touches on the jurisdiction of the court and that it is a threshold issue in the suit which its determination and disposal will stir the ship of the court whether to proceed or discontinue trial.

With the new application, the court had to pause and determine the application before continuing with the case.

This position did not go down well with the prosecuting counsel; Mr Rotimi Jacob, who said that the application is an attempt to slow down the case.

He urged the court to refuse the application so that the witness can go on and conclude his testimony.

The trial judge; Justice Adamu Bello, however disagreed with the prosecution.

According to him, having looked at the application it touches on the jurisdiction of the court which is a fundamental issue that must be settled before trial can commence.

Justice Bello went on to give seven days to the prosecution to reply the motion and serve same.

The case has been adjourned to the 16th of May for all parties to adopt their briefs.

According to court documents, Mr Yusuf is charged for failing to declare in his asset form as a civil servant, his interest in SY-Global Services Limited, a company solely owned by him and members of his family.

The second charge accused him of not declaring the sum of N250million lodged in a fixed deposit in the name of the said company with a commercial bank.

He is also accused of failing to declare another N10million lodge in a separate commercial bank in the name of the said company.

According to the fourth charge, Mr Yusuf used a surrogate, one Mr Danjuma Gele to also fix the sum of N25million in a fixed deposit account.

Yusuf, who was last tried alongside a former Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Head of Service, Abubakar Kigo and four others, including Sani Habila Zira, Esai Dangabar, Ahmed Inuwa Wada, Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula, was charged with criminal breach of trust by public officers.

They are alleged to have stolen the sum of N3.8 billion pension funds; an offence contrary to Sections 37and 315 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja Nigeria, 2007.

Court Denies Maina Protection From Imminent Arrest

The Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina has failed to secure a Federal High Court order to protect him from arrest and prosecution by security agents.

Justice Adamu Bello, in his ruling in the exparte motion filed by Maina refused to stop the Senate from ordering his arrest pending the determination of a suit he filed against them before the court.

Maina had approached the court with an application seeking an order of the court to compel the defendants to maintain status quo and not to make any move to arrest or put him on trial in any court pending the final determination of the suit he had already filed against them.

In a nine-paragraph affidavit in support of the exparte motion, Maina averred that the National Assembly members were still making moves to cause his arrest, detention and prosecution in spite of an existing legal action.

He told the court, through his counsel, Mahmud Abubakar Magaji that his purpose of instituting the legal action against the defendants would be defeated unless the court gives order to temporarily stop his pending arrest.

He further said that his right to fair trial had been trampled upon by the Senate for its failure to constitute another committee that will investigate him on his activity as the Pension Reform Task Team Chairman to determine if there was any fraud.

Maina said he had already written through his counsel to the leadership of the Senate that he has no confidence of getting justice in the present committee set up to investigate him because the committee members have allegedly displayed bias, harassment and intimidation against him, contrary to section 46 of the 1999 constitution

Maina promised to appear before a new committee of the Senate to give account of his activities as chairman of the pensions task team.

However, Justice Bello in a short ruling turned down Maina’s request on the ground that the court had been pre-empted by Maina’ counsel.

Justice Bello held that the counsel, on a network news of a television station on Thursday turned what was supposed to be exparte motion to motion on notice by disclosing to the whole world the content of the exparte motion and even went to the extent of naming him as the Judge to hear the motion, thereby rendering the purpose and intent of an exparte motion defeated.

Justice Bello said “The conduct of the applicant’s counsel was  in-appropriate. On that alone, the application cannot be granted”.

 

 

Court Ruling In Pension Case Not Substantial – Lawyer

A Legal practitioner, Toyese Adenipekun on Thursday described the court ruling on the Police Pension theft case as unsubstantial.

Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, Mr Adenipekun confessed his surprise at the court’s decision, an echo of the general reaction to Justice Adamu Bello’s judgment.

“Given the facts of the case and how much involved, N32 billion you would have expected that the fine would be substantial enough to bring about the deterrence value of the criminal justice system,” he said.

In the light of the argument that Justice Bello’s ruling is what the law dictates, Mr Adenipekun agreed that plea bargaining can take place stating that “the whole essence is to ensure the speedy dispensation of justice.”

Asked if he suspects any conspiracy in the case, he said that it is hard to prove that there is any conspiracy involved in the controversial case but confirms public suspicions that “something wrong took place somewhere.”

“I wonder what the prosecution had to tell the court before the court was convinced to allow the initial charges to be reduced,” he said.

Lagos-based Lawyer Calls For Disbandment Of NJC

A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Suraj Olarenwaju has called for the overhaul or disbandment of the National Judicial Council (NJC) stating that it is irrelevant in reforming the judicial system in Nigeria.
“We can’t see the relevance of that body… in reforming the judicial system in Nigeria,” said Mr. Olarenwaju on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily on Wednesday.
While sharing his views on the topic, Justice Delivery System In Nigeria, he described his initial reaction to the court ruling on the case involving former Assistant Director Police Pension Office, Yakubu John, as “unfortunate and ridiculous.”
He described the Judge’s ruling as a mere “judgement” as opposed to “justice” which should have been meted out.
Mr. Olarenwaju, who confirmed the 2-year imprisonment ruling as what the constitution states, questioned the N750,000 fine option saying that the law couldn’t have specified an amount of fine because it would not anticipate the amount of money involved in a case.”
“The option of fine should at least be commensurate with the crime committed… Fine should be an option that would be stringent for the convict to meet or either straight go to jail,” he added.
He faulted the ruling by Justice Adamu Bello’s, saying that “the Judge was on trial and he lost that process… as a barometer… you are also responsible for making law.”
“The review of the law should not be used as an escape for such a ruling,” he pointed out.
In his opinion the judge should have used his discretionary powers to ensure justice. “The judge would have reflected the circumstances of that case, assuage the pains and feelings of the Nigerian people and the police pensioners who have been deprived, many of whom have died without their entitlement, by asking that guy to pay a minimum of N1billion fine.”
He also challenged the integrity of the lawmakers of the country, saying that the “lawmakers anticipate that they would find themselves in this position at one point or the other and that is why they are prescribing this least possible sentencing.”

Convicted Ex-Pension Boss Remanded In Prision

A former Assistant Director at the police pension office, John Yakubu has been remanded in prison despite having pleaded not guilty to a four count charge of false declaration of assets.

Following his plea, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) asked the court to remand the accused in prison and set a date for trial.

Presiding Judge, Justice Adamu Bello obliged to the application of the EFCC and remanded the accused in prison despite the appeal by his counsel to remain in EFCC

The EFCC re-arraigned the convicted on charges of false declaration of assets.

According to court papers, Yakubu is charged with failing to declare in his asset form, as a civil servant, his interest in SY-A Global Services Limited, a company owned by him and members of his family.

Yakubu is also accused of failing to declare the sum of N285million lodged in fixed deposit in the name of the said company Anda Surrugate named Danjuma Gele.

Yakubu pleaded not guilty to the charges.

This re-arraignment is coming two days after an Abuja High court convicted Mr John Yakubu, a former official of the police pension board.

Following his plea of not guilty, the anti-graft agency asked the court to remand him in prison custody and set a date for trial.

Despite appeal by his lawyer that he should be remanded in EFCC custody; the court directed that he should be sent to prison.

Justice Bello also set trial for the 4th of March 2013; he however allowed the defence to appear before the court before the trial date to make an application for bail.

Mr. John Yakubu was on the 28th of January sentenced to 6 years imprisonment or an option of paying 750,000 after pleading guilty to three count charges of criminal conversion of the police pension fund for personal use.

Court Extends Forfeiture Order For Sylva’s Property

Justice A.R. Muhammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja on Tuesday granted the application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC for an extension of the interim order of attachment granted it to take possession of 48 properties of former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva.

The initial order granted on December 21, 2012, was for 14 days.

Before the expiration of the order, EFCC through its lawyer, Festus Keyamo applied for an extension, arguing that it was imperative for the determination of all applications and the safety of the attached properties.

However, the respondent’s counsel, Benson Ibezim, had urged the court to vacate the order because it was an ex-parte order and that his client is challenging the competence of the court to even entertain the case.

In his ruling, Justice Muhammed maintained that aside from the fact that the applicant (EFCC) had applied for the extension of the order before the expiration of the subsisting one, he was granting the extension because the order was the crux of the matter.

“If I do not do so, the question would be why and what are we coming here to deliberate on next time. The order of 21 December is the main thrust of this matter, the court must order for its existence to enable the respondent to be heard”, he stated.

He thereafter adjourned the case to January 24, 2013.

Meanwhile the EFCC has also urged a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja and presided by Justice Adamu Bello to strike out the application by Chief Sylva seeking the dismissal of the 6-count charge preferred against him. The charges borders on misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N6billion during his tenure as governor of Bayelsa State.

The case has been adjourned to February 20, 2013 for ruling.

 

NJC asks court to re-instate suspended court of appeal president

The National Judicial Council (NJC) has said that President Goodluck Jonathan has no power or role under the 1999 constitution or any other law to recall or reinstate the suspended president of the court of appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami or any other justices of the appellate court.

The council insisted that the power to recall suspended Justice Salami solely and exclusively belongs to it without any recourse to the direction or authority of any other person outside the council including the president.

In a reaction to a court action instituted against President Goodluck Jonathan by 11 human rights activists challenging the continued suspension of Justice Salami, the NJC agreed with the activists that the president has no role to play in the recall of the embattled appeal court president.

In a suit filed at a Federal High Court in Abuja by its counsel Mister Usman Isah, the NJC which on August 18, 2011 suspended Justice Salami from office over a dispute ,submitted that the exercise of disciplinary power and recall of a suspended justice of court of appeal is exclusively vested in it by the constitution as amended.

The council also agreed that the continued stay in office by the acting president of the court of appeal Justice Dalhatu Adamu was illegal and unconstitutional by virtue of section 238(5) of the 1999 constitution.

In specific terms, the NJC canvassed that Justice Adamu cannot be re-appointed by President Jonathan after the expiration of the three months in office without the recommendation of the council and that as such the continued stay in office by Adamu be voided.

11 human right activists had dragged President Goodluck Jonathan and the national judicial council (NJC) to a Federal High Court in Abuja seeking an order of mandamus to compel them to recall justice salami from his suspension.

The activists comprising four lawyers also applied for an order compelling the acting president of the appellate court Justice Dalhatu Adamu to immediately vacate office having been illegally re-appointed beyond three months by President Jonathan.

The NJC in a clear departure from the earlier position asked Justice Adamu Bello to give judgment in favour of the activists that salami be brought back without any recourse to the power or authority of anybody including the president.

The NJC also agreed that the re-appointment of Justice Adamu was illegal and should be voided.

Justice Adamu Bello has however ordered parties in the suit to file and exchange their written addresses and fixed December 4 for adoption.

 

Court to entertain suit seeking to sack governor Chime today

A suit seeking to sack the governor of Enugu state, Mr Sullivan Chime from office, will commence today at the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court.

The appeal which was filled by a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), in the state, Mr. Alexander Obiechina, is challenging the refusal of a Federal High Court in Abuja to void the nomination process that saw the emergence of Governor Chime on April 26, 2011.

The court presided by Justice Adamu Bello had on the 21st of May  2012, declined to sack governor Chime from office, saying it lacked the jurisdiction to nullify his candidacy in the last general elections.

Justice Bello had maintained that the issue of nomination and sponsorship of a candidate for any given election was within the realm of the domestic affairs of a political party.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, Mr. Obiechina took the matter before the appellate court, praying it to go ahead and determine whether there was a valid special congress or primary election held in Enugu state on January 12, 2011, in which governor Chime was nominated as the PDP’s candidate.

Insisting that Mr Chime was handpicked through a ‘kangaroo process’, the litigant, through his lawyer, Mr. Oba Maduabuchi, urged the court to nullify the said ‘illegal primary election’ and order the governor to forthwith vacate the office,

He argued that January 9, 2011, was the validly set date for the gubernatorial primaries in the state.

However, Governor Chime and the PDP have given reasons why the suit should be dismissed in its entirety.

The PDP, represented in court by its former national legal adviser, Chief Olusola Oke, and the governor, earlier filed separate preliminary objections against the suit.

The respondents challenged the jurisdiction of the High Court to entertain the matter, maintaining that the plaintiff was bereft of the locus-standi to seek the sack of the governor from office.