$40m Fraud: Court Adjourns Ruling on Azibaola’s No-Case Submission

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Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja has adjourned to March 29, 2018 to decide on whether or not Robert Azibaola, a cousin to former President Goodluck Jonathan, has case to answer on a 7-count charge of money laundering and criminal breach of trust preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Azibaola is standing trial alongside his wife, Stella Azibaola and their Company, One Plus Holdings Nig. Ltd.
The defendants were alleged to have diverted ($40,000,000.00) Forty million United State dollars money purported to be for the supply of Tactical Communication kits for Special Forces which was transferred from the Account of the Office of the National Security Adviser with the Central Bank of Nigeria to the domiciliary account of their company, One Plus Holdings.
In proof of its case, the prosecution called 10 witnesses and tendered documents and closed its case on Tuesday, January 23, 2017, setting the stage for the defendants to open their defence.
Rather than open defence, Azibaola through his counsel, Chris Uche, SAN, approached the court with a no-case submission in an application dated March 15, 2018 and filed March 19, 2018 urging the court to dismiss the charge in its entirety and acquit the defendants.
While adopting the written address at the resumed sitting on March 16, 2018, Uche argued that “the prosecution had failed woefully to establish a prima-facie case against the defendants as the evidence presented shows no linkage and nexus with the defendants”.
He added that even “the witnesses called showed no reason for the default” adding that “the materials before the court are also grossly insufficient to agitate the court’s mind”.
On the money laundering charge, the learned silk argued that “there has to be proof of its illicit or illegitimate origin” He noted that in the case at hand, there was no such proof of illegitimacy of dirtiness of the origin, rather what the prosecution showed are two funds ($40million and N650million) whose source were derived from an offspring of a “legitimate paternity”.
He believed that the trial is more of a “political witch-hunt” and urged the court to hold that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants.
In response, Francis Jirbo, counsel to the EFCC, urged the court to discountenance the arguments of the defence saying, the prosecution had proved the essential ingredients of the offence to warrant explanations by the defendants.
Jirbo, while adopting a written address dated March 6, 2018 and filed March 7, 2018 told the court that “the no-case submission by the defence has taken the court into the burden that would only be discharged after the full hearing of the case”.
He argued that “in criminal trial, it is a mistaken belief that the burden of proof is based on the prosecution”
According to him, “the burden of proof by the prosecution is that of legal burden”. He said that “the prosecution has established a prima facie case that there is a document which talked about a contract for the supply of communication kits for special forces and there is nothing to show in ‘Exhibit 5’ (3rd defendant’s statement of account) that the kits were provided and supplied”.
He added that there was no contract document showing any award of contact to the defendants and no bidding of such a contract has been shown by the defendants.
Jirbo submitted that, having established a prima facie case of money laundering, it is only logical that the defendants step into the witness box to explain how $40million were spent on the supply of tactical communication kits for special forces.
“It is trite that when a court is giving consideration to a submission of no-case, it is not necessary at that stage of the trial for the court to determine if the evidence is sufficient to justify conviction, the trial court only has to be satisfied that there is a prima facie case requiring some explanation from the defendant”, Jirbo said.
After argument and counter argument by counsels, the court adjourned for ruling.

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