The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal yesterday set aside the conviction of four companies allegedly connected with the former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.
A three man panel of the appellate court presided over by Justice C. N. Uwa in a unanimous decision nullified the judgment of a Federal High Court in Lagos on the grounds that the judgment breached the principle of fair hearing.
Justice Babs Kuewumi of a Federal High Court in Lagos had in 2016 found the companies guilty as charged, but declined to pronounce sentence pending the conclusion of other persons in the matter.
The affected companies include; Transocean Property & Investment Company Ltd, Seagate Property Development & Investment Ltd, Pluto Property & Investment Company Ltd and Avalon Global Property Development Company.
Kuewumi had convicted the companies based on admittance of guilty by some purported directors of the companies.
However the defendants not satisfied with the decision of the trial court had approached the appellate court to declare it null and void and consequently set it aside.
Delivering judgment via Zoom on Friday, the Court of Appeal held that the convictions of the four companies amounted to a nullity having being done in gross disregard of statutory and constitutional provisions.
Counsel to the appellants, Ige Asemudara, had contended that the circumstances of the conviction of the companies being a nullity, is one in which the court could set aside its own decision, and accordingly urged the Court of Appeal to allow the appeal and set aside the conviction.
In its judgment, the court of Appeal agreed and set aside the conviction of the four companies especially in view of the fact that the validity of the plea of guilt which was challenged by the appellant was still yet to be determined before the convictions were made.
According to the appellate court, the convictions of the four companies breached the principle of fair hearing as provided in the Constitution.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned the four companies alongside a former Special Assistant to President Jonathan, Waripamo Dudafa; and others on a 15 count charge bordering on alleged laundering money.
The commission however reviewed the fact of the charge, paving way for the admittance of guilty by some purported directors of the companies.
The commission through its lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo had urged the court to declare the defendants guilty of fraud following admittance of guilty by some purported directors of the companies.
Oyedepo had informed the court that the said money were proceeds of crime, adding that they were paid into the four companies’ accounts by one Festus Iyoha, who was a domestic servant at the State House, Abuja.
Oyedepo after reviewing the facts of the charge also tendered the documents, such as the companies’ bank mandate forms, account opening packages and the CAC Forms 2, which indicated that the purported directors were major shareholders in the companies.
But the respondents through their lawyers urged the court to allow their clients to go through the documents sought to be tendered by the prosecutor.
The defence lawyers had stated that admitting of the documents, will have negative impact on their clients.
Chief Ozekhome, SAN further challenged the convictions made pursuant to the pleas but the Federal High Court refused to set it aside.
Consequently, Justice Babs Kuewumi pronounced all the four companies guilty as charged, but declined to pronounce sentence on them, saying that would be determined at the conclusion of trial of other accused persons in the matter.