The Federal High Court in Ikoyi, on Thursday, discharged and acquitted Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, a former Senior Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Domestic Affairs, of the 22 counts money laundering charges preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Mohammad Idris, the presiding judge, upheld that the failure of the anti-graft agency to call some vital witnesses restricted the agency’s ability to prove the allegations against Dudafa and Joseph Iwuejo, a banker and the second defendant in the case.
The judge said the prosecution ought to have called Somprei Omiebi; Sambo Dasuki, the then National Security Adviser; S. A. Salisu, the then Director of Finance and Administration at the office of the NSA; as witnesses. Failure to do so, he said, scuttled the prosecution’s case. The judge opined that the presence of these individuals could have cleared all suspicion.
He said, although, the commission was able to show that there was reasonable doubt to suspect financial impropriety on the part of the defendant, it failed to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, the judge held: “Criminal allegations, by the strict dictates of our law, is proved and decided upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Suspicions and conjectures have no place at all in our criminal jurisprudence.”
The judge distilled the issues for determination and concluded that the allegations to be considered are conspiracy, forgery and money laundering related offences.
The judge also said the commission failed to establish during the course of its argument what constituted an unlawful act with which the funds in contention were proceeds of
The judge ruled on the 22 counts as follow:
The EFCC alleged in count one that the defendants conspired to launder the sum of N1, 627,162, 800. The judge held that the EFCC failed to prove that there was a meeting of the minds as it is required to prove the allegation of conspiracy.
He stated that the defendants in their confessional statements, which was relied upon by the EFCC to prove the case, did mention that they never conspire, adding that the defendants made it clear that they did not know each other until the time of their arrest.
He said: “The first defendant stated that for the purpose of the safe-keeping of the funds, he brought one Somprei Omiebi, who is a family friend of the first family (Goodluck Jonathan) who brought the company’s account for the safe-keeping of the funds.
“The second defendant said the same Sompre Omiebi instructed him. The question that comes to mind, since the first and second defendant have both made reference to a particular person by the name Sompre Omiebi as the person who owned and operated the accounts where the funds in this charge were lodged, why did the prosecution fail to call this person as a witness.”
He stated further that there was no evidence before the court to show that Omiebi is dead or incapacitated to give evidence, as a vital witness, adding that Sompre was the only link between the two defendants and failure to bring him greatly harmed the prosecution’s case.
The judge said the defendants were able to prove that the funds in questions were proceeds from the launch of a charity organization. “The prosecution did not make an attempt to puncture the evidence of the defense neither did it provide its evidence to counter the evidence of the defendants", the judge noted.
There, the judged ruled that the prosecution failed to discharge its duty to prove the guilt of the defendants
Count 2 – 9
In the charges, the EFCC accused the defendants of concealing funds they reasonably ought to know are proceeds of an unlawful act.
The commission said the defendants allegedly concealed the funds in the accounts of A.B. Wise Resources Limited, Seagate Property Development and Investment Limited, Avalon Global Property Development Company Limited, Rotato Interlink Service Limited, Pluto Property and Services Limited, and De-jakes fast food and Restaurant Limited.
In proving the charges, the prosecution relied solely on the extrajudicial stamen of the defendants, which the court held that the prosecution failed to corroborate with other evidence.
It could be recalled that during the trial, the defendants did claim that the statements were extracted from them under duress. Although the contention was dismissed by the court, the judge held that the confessional statement of the defendants is not enough evidence to secure a conviction.
The judge also noted that the prosecution failed to establish the unlawful act with which the funds were proceeds of.
Justice Idris said: “The prosecution now gone ahead to show that the defendant used his position as a public officer to confer an unfair advantage upon himself. Also going by the evidence of PW (Prosecution Witness) 7, it was stated that the first defendant received bags which he claimed not to know the content of. The Prosecution has tried to show that the content of the bags was united states dollars which were removed from the central band.
“Did the prosecution call any official of the central bank of Nigeria to show that the money was removed from their office? Looking at exhibit M, the letter was written to the central bank of Nigeria and signed by Dasuki, who was the National Security Adviser to the former president Goodluck Jonathan, therein authorizing one Salihu to sign and collect the sum of $47 million. I could not see any part of the letter where the name of the defendants was mentioned. Also, I do not see any evidence indicating that the same funds were released by the central bank of Nigeria. To my mind, the prosecution has not sufficiently linked exhibit M to the supposed bags carried by the first defendant. There is no nexus at all that the funds in exhibit M were issued at all.”
The judge said he agreed with the prosecution that the burden of proof is on the defence when the funds available to him far outweighed his income. He, however, said the defendant was able to show that the funds were proceeds from a fundraiser.
He therefore said he cannot hold the defendants guilty of count 2 – 9.
Count 10 – 11
As it relates to counts 10 and 11, the prosecution argued that the defendants made a cash payment of the sum of $69,000 on May 4, 2015, and $400,000 in June 2015, in contravention of money laundering prohibition act.
The prosecution relied on some text messages from the Dudafa to some bureau de change operatives, asking for the exchange rate of dollars. The prosecution also relied on the testimony of Dudafa that he instructed the bureau de change to pay the naira equivalent into the account of one Muritala Bashiru.
“Here, the question to ask is does the prosecution actually expect the court to believe that the act of giving money to a staff of the state house counts as payment envisaged [by the money laundering act]”
The judge said the money exchanged did not count as payment. He said the mere exchange of money did not constitute an office.
Count 12 – 13
The commission said the defendants made certain transfers and purchased property with the proceed of an unlawful act. The EFCC also relied on the statement made by Dudafa without corroborating it with any other evidence.
“I have looked through all the evidence relied upon by the prosecutor and I have critically reviewed the argument which was made by the first defendant and I have come to the conclusion that the only evidence that actually linked the first defendant to the transaction is exhibit G9,“ he stated.
He held that it is hard to link the defendant to the companies in the transaction, having not been a signatory to the accounts or a director in the companies.
He restated that the failure to have called Omeibi to successfully link Dudafa to Iwuejo, the account officer who operated the accounts of the companies.
The judge also stated that the statement in the confessional statement of the defendant does not amount to an admission of guilt.
“In the light of the above, the question that comes down to the weight attached to exhibit G9 (the confessional statement) The court must look at other evidence to determine what weight to attach to the statement. I have found that apart from the testimony, none of the other evidence corroborated the claims in G9 which was written more than a month since the defendant has been in custody.
On this ground, he also does not find the defendant guilty of the two charges in count 12 and 13.
Count 14 – 15
The EFCC accused the defendants of forgery. The commission said the defendant forged bank documents with the intention for the documents to be passed off as the real one. They also claimed that the signature on the bank document, which happened to be the Iwuejo’s signature, were forged by Iwuejo himself.
However, the court held that the commission failed to provide the original copy of the document forged to use as a cross check for the alleged forged document. He added that forgery or any criminal charge at that can only be proven with sufficient evidence failure with which requires the accused to be discharged.
“Even though the prosecution has tried to prove that Ebeneza is the same person as the second defendant, they have not been successful at this. And even if they have been successful, can a person be said to forge his own signature?” the court asked.
He said there was no evidence to prove that the second defendants appeared under different names. He pointed out the contradiction in the prosecution’s argument wherein it tried to prove that the second defendant impersonated different identity and at the same time accused the defendant of forging the signature of the identities which prosecution claimed to be him.
He held that for forgery to be proven two documents must be presented to the court, that is the forged document and the original document. “the prosecution produced only the alleged forged cheques,” the court held.
Count 16 – 22
Dudafa and Iwuejo also floored the EFCC on the last 8 counts of the charges wherein they were accused of carrying out a transaction that contravened the EFCC act.
In the counts, EFCC said monies in certain companies belonged to the Dudafa but failed to prove how, giving that Dedafa is not a director in any of the companies. The judge also concluded that because a person deposited money into these companies’ accounts does not show that the deposited money was a proceed of a crime.
“To me, there seems to be no way to link the money in the accounts of companies which the first defendant is not a director. The first defendant is not a signatory to the account or a shareholder in the companies.”
The commission also accused Dudafa of intentionally failing to declare his assets but the court held that the commission failed that the act of omission was intentional.
Having considered all the shreds of evidence and argument of the prosecution in proving the offences, the judge said EFCC failed to prove its case judiciously.
“I do not find anything that suggests that the criminal offence as charged has been committed. The prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these are proceeds of unlawful acts,” he stated.