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Alleged N1.4 Billion Money Laundering: Application Seeking To Stop Trial Of NBA President, Paul Usoro Unmeritorious – JUDGE

PAUL USORO (SAN) 
By Francis Iwuchukwu, Lagos 

The application seeking to stop the trial of the incumbent President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN) on Thursday (today) hit the rocks, when a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria, presided over by Justice Rilwan Aikawa, insisted that the said application does not have any form of merit.

The judge arrived at the decision after dismissing an application instituted by the governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, questioning the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charge made against the NBA President, Usoro (SAN).

It would be recalled that Usoro is presently facing a N1.4 billion money laundering charge made against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the name of the governor alongside his commissioners and the Account-General of the state had been mentioned.

Sequel to the arraignment of Usoro before the court, Justice Aikawa had on March 1, 2019, upon a request by EFCC ordered the arrest of the commissioners and the Account-General. 

Other defendants (now at large)  in the criminal charge are the Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko and the Accountant General of the state, Mfon Udomah.

But on May 10, Justice Aikawa  vacated the bench warrant against them which also affected one Margaret Ukpe. 

Immediately after vacating the bench warrant, the court  took arguments on another motion by Governor  Emmanuel challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case. 

In his argument on the motion, Governor Emmanuel's lawyer, Charles Mekwunye, posited that the Commission does not have the locus to bring the action as the Constitution in Section 128 has outlined how any excesses of a state governor could be checkmated. 

The lawyer further argued that it is illegal for the EFCC to put the governor's name in the charge as he still enjoys immunity as enshrined in Section 308 of the Constitution.

In his opposition, counsel to EFCC suggested that the power of the court to hear and determine money laundering related offences against all persons is not in doubt. 

The Commission's counsel maintained that Governor Emmanuel is not a party in the case. 

After taking submissions of lawyers in the criminal charge, Justice Aikawa had fixed May 30, 3019 for ruling on the  application. 

At Thursday's ruling on the matter, Justice Aikawa confirmed that there was no conflict on who was named in the charge as accused. 

The court equally stated that in any charge, there is always parties which are the prosecution and defendant(s), and in the charge before him the only defendant listed is Usoro while EFCC is the prosecution. 

While lending his weight behind the position of the anti-graft agency, Justice Aikawa ruled that Governor Emmanuel is not a party in the case before it. 

Justice Aikawa further declared that, “The applicant cannot be crying wolf where there is none, it is only a party in the suit that can cry to the court for hearing but in this case, the applicant is not a party and cannot be crying for fair hearing, I hereby dismiss this application for lack of merit."

The judge adjourned till July 3, 2019 for further hearing.

According to the charge designated FHC/418c/18, the EFCC claimed that Usoro converted and laundered the said sum in connivance with Governor Emmanuel. 

But the governor was not listed as a defendant in the charge, as the anti-graft agency indicated that he is “currently constitutionally immuned against criminal prosecution.”

The Commission insisted that the alleged crime committed by the NBA President is contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.

Part of the charge reads: “That you Paul Usoro SAN, Emmanuel Udom (currently constitutionally immuned against criminal prosecution), Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko (still at large), Nsikan Linus Nkan (Commissioner for Finance, Akwa Ibom state) (still at large), Mfon Jacobson Udomah (Accountant General of Akwa Ibom state) (still at large) and Margaret Thompson Ukpe (still at large) sometimes in 2015 in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court conspired amongst yourselves to commit an offence, to wit, conversion of N1.4 billion, property of government of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, which sum you reasonably ought to know forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity to wit; criminal breach of trust and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.

"That you Paul Usoro SAN, Emmanuel Udom (currently constitutionally immuned against criminal prosecution), Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko (still at large), Nsikan Linus Nkan (Commissioner for Finance, Akwa Ibom state) (still at large), Mfon Jacobson Udomah (Accountant General of Akwa Ibom state) (still at large) and Margaret Thompson Ukpe (still at large) on or about the 14th day of March, 2016 in Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court converted the sum of N300 million, property of government of Akwa Ibom state of Nigeria,  which sum you reasonably ought to know forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity to wit; criminal breach of trust and thereby committed an offence contrary Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act."

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