National Publicity Secretary (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh, will today, April 11, open his defence against the seven-count charge slammed on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
This is after the case has suffered many adjournments at the instance of the defendants.
Metuh was first arrested on January 5.
He was charged to court on January 19 on a seven-count criminal charge.
The charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/05/2016, was signed by the Assistant Director, Legal & Prosecution Department of the EFCC, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir.
The charge against Metuh borders on alleged money laundering, breach of trust and criminal diversion of public funds.
Specifically, EFCC, alleged that Metuh had in November, 2014, collected the sum of N400m from the erstwhile National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, rtd.
The fund which was withdrawn from an account the Office of the NSA operated with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, was allegedly transferred to Metuh through account no. 0040437573, which Destra Investments Limited operated with Diamond Bank Plc.
EFCC insisted that whereas the fund was earmarked for campaign activities of the PDP, it said that Metuh diverted most of it to his personal use.
It alleged that Metuh converted part of the money to one million US Dollars which he used for his personal business.
Besides, Metuh was alleged to have transferred the sum of N21.7m to another chieftain of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih.
EFCC opened its prosecution January 25 with the first witness, Nneka Ararume, a wealth manager dealing in management of equities, fixed income instruments and real estate, She said she collected the sum of $2million dollars from Metuh sometime in December 2014.
She said she changed the dollars into Nigerian currency and had it transferred to Metuh’s account.
The second witness, a bureau de change operator, said he had the sum of $1 million dollars exchanged to N183 million and transferred to the account of Dextra Investments Limited.
The third prosecution witness, Bali Ndam, from the office of National Security Adviser narrated to a Federal High Court in Abuja how companies, including the one owned by Metuh, got paid for doing nothing.
He said he could “vividly remember” that Metuh’s firm, Destra Investments Limited, with whom the PDP spokesperson is standing trial, was among the 78 beneficiaries of the allegedly fraudulent payment
However, after EFCC had called all its witnesses, eight, Metuh submitted a no case submission. But the court ruled that the prosecutor had been able to established enough ground for Metuh and his company to face prosecution.
The court on March 9 dismissed the application and ordered Metuh to open his defence.
The Judge, Okon Abang, further held that Metuh has case to answer based on the proof of evidence by the EFCC.
Justice Abang further noted that Metuh had in a statement he made before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, admitted that he was the sole signatory to the account where the fund was lodged in.
“There are several questions that only the defendant can answer. He admitted knowledge that on November 24, 2014, the sum on N400m was transferred to his company’s account with Diamond Bank Plc.
“Did the 1st defendant enquire from the bank the source of the money? If he did, what was the response of the bank? It is only the defendant that can answer the question.
“If he did not enquire from the bank, did he report the matter to the EFCC or the Police? If he did not inform the police about the cash inflow into his company’s account, why did he fail to do so?
“Why did he disburse the fund PW6 and 7, and also to Chief Tony Anenih? It is my view that only when the 1st defendant answers the questions, that it will be clear if he knew that the transfer of the N400m formed part of illegal proceeds of crime by the former NSA.
“I have only heard from the prosecution and I am satisfied that a prima-facie case has been made out against the defendant.
“There is urgent need for the 1st defendant to tell the court whether indeed he gave $2m to the PW-1 (Nneka Ararume) to convert to Naira equivalent and also the origin of these funds.
“The no-case submission lacks merit and same is accordingly dismissed. The defendant is to enter his defence today”, the court ruled.
It was after this that Metuh sought the trial Judge, Abang to disqualify himself from his trial.
The accused had sent a petition against the Judge to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and filed the application asking Abang to withdraw from the case after the prosecution closed its case with eight witness and they were called upon to open their defence.
Both the petition and the motion were based on allegation of bias leveled against the Judge.
The application by Metuh, through his lawyer, Emeka Etiaba (SAN) asked the Judge to disqualify himself, based on the allegation that the Judge had been bias in the handling of the case.
He alleged that the defence applied for the record of proceedings on February 8, 2016 to enable the defence to appeal against some decisions of the court, but that one month and one week later, the judge had yet to release it to the defence.
Metuh also claimed in the application that he would likely be denied fair hearing in the case due to a losgstanding “frosty relationship” between him and the judge.
Etiaba had also claimed in the petition that Metuh and the Judge both practised law in Lagos before the PDP spokesperson relocated to Abuja and Justice Abang on his part was appointed a Judge.
Etiaba also alleged that Metuh met and had discussion with Justice Abang late last year in Meridien Hotel in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, adding that his client was baffled at the views expressed by the judge during their encounter.
But the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, refused the petitioner request to withdraw the case from Justice Abang and reassign it to another Judge.
Auta dismissed the petition on the grounds that it was too late in the day to reassign a case in which the prosecution had called its witnesses.
Last Friday, April 8, Justice Abang ordered Chief Metuh to open his defence in his trial.
Justice Abang gave the directive after dismissing a number of Metuh’s applications, including one asking the Judge to withdraw from the case and another asking for indefinite adjournment.
Metuh had requested an indefinite adjournment pending when the Court of Appeal would hear and determine his appeal against the court’s ruling dismissing his no-case submission and his motion for stay of proceedings of his trial
Another lawyer, Tochukwu Onwugbufor (SAN), who took over the defence of Metuh’s firm on Friday, also made series of oral applications for adjournment which were all dismissed by the court.
The Judge said Metuh and his firm were no longer entitled to any further adjournment having exhausted the five times such request could be granted to them under section 396(5) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
Since the prosecution closed its case, the Judge recalled that the matter had been adjourned on February 4, 9, March 9, 17 and 24, all at the instance of the defendants.
Metuh was thus ordered to prepare for his defence today, April 11.