Four companies which pleaded guilty to laundering $15.5m allegedly belonging to former First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan Wednesday urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to reverse their guilty plea.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned them with a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to President Jonathan, Dr Waripamo Dudafa, a lawyer Amajuoyi Briggs, who is the companies’ secretary, and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku.
Unlike the companies, Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty to the 17-count charge.
The companies’ lawyer Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) told Justice Babs Kuewumi that his clients were not given a fair trial before their conviction because they had no legal representation of their choice.
“Throughout the trial, they did not have any counsel or counsel of their choice,” the SAN said.
He added that had the judge’s attention been drawn to it, he would have ordered the prosecution to provide a counsel for the defendants.
Ozekhome said he was briefed to represent the companies after its Directors pleaded guilty despite not being authorised by the board to do so.
Moving his motion seeking to set aside the companies conviction, Ozekhome said they were convicted “in gross violation” of the 1999 Constitution, which he said occasioned a miscarriage of justice.
He prayed that the trial be done de novo (afresh) and that the previous proceedings be declared null, void and unsustainable in law.
The application, he said, is on the ground that the court failed to pass a sentence on the convicted companies, as the judge reserved sentence until end of the other defendants’ trial.
“The lapse in time between the conviction and expected sentence amounts not only to torture but breach of right to be tried within a reasonable time. Because there was no sentence, they cannot exercise their right of appeal,” he said.
Besides, Ozekhome said the Directors who pleaded guilty were not authorised by the board to defend the companies, adding that his client were denied the right to cross-examine the purported Directors.
“They are just busybodies and interlopers who were pressured to come and plead guilty. They had no mandate to do so,” he said.
The defence counsel said the companies’ conviction was “grossly unfair” and amounted to “justice crushed” due to non-compliance with Section 36 of the 1999 constitution which requires than an accused be given adequate facilities to defend himself.
“We urge my lord to set aside this manifest, manifold travesty of justice. We need a trial de novo. We are crying on bended knees. The companies want to be tried, but they want to be defended in this trial, not ‘nicodemusly’, but in the public,” he said.
But, prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo urged the court to refuse the application for being an abuse of court process.
According to him, it amounted to asking the judge to revisit his ruling and to assume the position of an appellate court.
“Your Lordship is functus officio (a doctrine which prevents the re-opening of a matter before the same court),” he said, adding that the companies have a right to appeal their conviction.
“Re-inviting my lord to change his earlier findings is like asking him to return to Egypt when he has crossed the red sea. This application is asking my lord to constitute himself into an appellate court. This application is a violent abuse of process of this court and should be frowned at,” Oyedepo said.
He denied that the directors who pleaded guilty were not authorised to do so, saying there was evidence that they were indeed the companies’ directors from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and from the companies’ bank accounts.
Justice Kuewumi adjourned until July 3 for ruling and hearing of a pending by Briggs.