Two former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) employees Christian Nwosu and Tijani Bashir have been convicted by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
Nwosu, who was an INEC Administrative Secretary in Kwara State and Bashir, an official of the commission, were charged with N264.8 million gratification and money laundering.
They were found guilty of the charges filed against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The former INEC officials were arraigned by the anti-graft agency for accepting bribe from former Petroleum Resources Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke.
EFCC said the former minister received gratification from oil marketers such as Auctus Integrated Services Ltd, Northern Belt Oil, Gas Ltd and Midwestern Oil and Gas Ltd and Leno Adesanya.
The money was part of slush funds distributed with a view to influencing the 2015 general elections, which former President Goodluck Jonathan lost.
According to the EFCC, the defendants conspired to directly take possession of N264,880,000, which they reasonably ought to have known forms part of an unlawful act – gratification.
The convicts were charged with another INEC official Yisa Adedoyin, who pleaded guilty to the offence and was convicted following a plea bargain.
Nwosu, who had initially pleaded guilty to receiving N30 million bribe from Mrs. Alison-Madueke to rig the 2015 general election results at his arraignment on April 5, 2017, changed his plea to not guilty when he was re-arraigned.
EFCC said the convicts made cash payment of N70, 050,000 to Adedoyin, which exceeds the amount authorised by law without going through a financial institution.
Bashir was accused of indirectly taking possession of and retaining N164,880,000, which he reasonably ought to have known forms part of gratification, and concealing N30million, being part of the proceeds of an unlawful act: “criminal misappropriation”.
The alleged offences were committed on March 27 and April 7, 2015 and violated provisions of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act.
In his verdict, Justice Mohammed Idris held that the prosecution proved the case beyond reasonable doubt.
“I find that the prosecution has proved this case beyond reasonable doubt in a manner required by law. I, therefore, find the first and second defendants guilty as charged,” the judge ruled.
He, however, could not pass a sentence on the defendants due to Nwosu’s absence.
The convict’s lawyer, Obinna Okeke, said Nwosu, based in the Southeast, embarked on a journey to Lagos on Wednesday morning on learning that judgment would be delivered yesterday.
The lawyer told the court that his client arrived in Lagos late Wednesday.
He said: “I got a call that he collapsed at the park. He’s on admission in a hospital in Ajangbadi.
“The doctor had to start administering injections on him. His blood pressure was 200/100. He has been very hypertensive and has not been sleeping.”
Besides, Okeke said there was a pending appeal on a constitutional issue which the defendants filed at the Court of Appeal.
”We’re urging your Lordship to grant an adjournment to enable the Court of Appeal dispose of this constitutional issue, by which time the first defendant would have recovered,” he pleaded.
But, prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to disregard the hospital report which he described as “worthless” and contradictory.
He said the doctor’s report stated that Nwosu was “conscious and alert”.
Refusing the prayer for adjournment, Justice Idris held: “The first defendant is absent without any valid reason in my respectful view.”
On the pending appeal, Justice Idris held that the issue of law raised and any appeal from the judgment would both be determined by the Court of Appeal.
He added that he was bound by the Constitution to deliver the judgment within 90 days.
In his verdict, Justice Idris held that the defendants went to a Fidelity Bank Plc branch to “conduct an unusual transaction” that was outside the scope of their functions.
Contrary to Nwosu’s claim that the money was for logistics purposes, Justice Idris held that the convict had no account in Fidelity Bank where he went to receive the money, nor did he receive any instructions to disburse the cash.
The judge said the fact that he collected huge sums of cash without going through a financial institution meant that an offence was committed.
Justice Idris noted that the defendants did not tender any instructions with respect to the transaction, adding the prosecution witnesses’ evidence was not contradicted.
He said: “The money did not come from any political party. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did not issue any cheque in the name of the defendants to legitimise the transaction, neither did INEC.
“The defendants admitted that they did not receive cheques from anyone, including the PDP or INEC before going to Fidelity Bank. Why did they have to collect such huge amount of money in cash? INEC is not a customer of Fidelity Bank.
“There was no instruction directing the bank to disburse the said N264, 880,000 to the intending beneficiaries. The defendants admitted receiving the money.
“The evidence on record shows that this money did not come from any political party or any other known legitimate source other than the source revealed by the prosecution.
“The defendants were not customers of Fidelity Bank and were clearly not issued any financial instruments to carry out the transactions.
“I agree with the prosecution that the manner in which the transaction leading to this charge was consummated shows clearly that the defendants and Fidelity Bank, acting on behalf of Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, agreed to carry out unlawful act.
“The defendants though may not know reasonably ought to have known in view of the circumstances that the funds were proceeds of unlawful activity.”
After finding the defendants guilty, Justice Idris adjourned until 12 noon today for sentencing.
He ordered that Nwosu be produced in court while Bashir should be kept in EFCC’s custody.