(Sahara Reporters) Reprieve partially came the way of former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode this morning as a federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria discharged and acquitted him of thirty-eight count charge of money laundering out of forty count charge filed against him, while the court ordered him to enter his defence in the remaining two counts.
In her ruling, the presiding judge, Rita Ofili Ajumogobia said in considering the issue of no case submission as filed by the defense counsel, certain laid down principles needed to be considered, such as the following. Has the prosecution led any evidence to link the accused person to the commission of the offense? Is the evidence adduced by the prosecution so credible to sway the court to compel the accused person to enter his defense and is the evidence so adduced make meaning and sense to any discerning minds?
Justice Ajumogobia, while appraising the submission of the prosecution and the defense said the prosecution has failed woefully to prove beyond reasonable doubt the offense in thirty-eight. Counts accordingly discharged and acquitted the former minister on this charges while the former minister was ordered to enter his defence in counts twenty-five and twenty-six.
The court said the prosecution has led evidence to show the ingredient of the offense which will necessitate the minister to enter his defense.
After the ruling, Dr Abiodun Layonu, leading two other lawyers Tola Oshobi, T. Adigun for the defense urged the court to give them short adjournment consequently, the case was adjourned till 8 December, when Fani-Kayode is expected to open his defense on those two counts.
Fani-Kayode, is standing trial on an amended 40 count charge, bordering on the alleged offences of transacting business without going through financial institution and has been prosecuted by the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC).
Last Monday, Fani-Kayode's lawyer, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), made a no case submission on behalf of the former minister. He added that he had also filed a reply on points of law, in response to the issues raised by the prosecution in their processes.
Adedipe while adopting his submission urged the court to discharge the former minister of all 40 counts, on the grounds that no case has been made out against him, to warrant him to enter a defence.
He stated that the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges against him before this court, and by so doing, he has joined issues with the prosecution, leaving them to prove their case beyond doubt.
The prosecution called six witnesses, and of all these witnesses, none of them came forward to give any evidence that they had any financial transaction with the accused.
"Pw3 (a Superintendent of Police) told the court that nobody came forward to say that he gave any cash to the accused.
"Pw5, (former aide to accused) gave evidence that it was one Kolade who gave him the money he lodged into the account of the minister and this does not prove anything against the accused."
Adedipe also argued that even though the statement of account of the accused was put in evidence for which he was required by the prosecution to make explanations, such statement was not prima facie evidence of crime.
Citing the authority of Abacha vs the State, Adedipe stressed that by the decision of the Supreme Court, such statement of account could only amount to mere susspicion which no matter how well placed, did not constitute a prima facie case.
"If an individual receives several sums of money from different sources, he is expected to lodge same, and so, the fact that certain amounts are found in his account, does not amount to an offence.
"I therefore, respectfully urge this court to discharge the accused of all counts in the charge.
In response, the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Festus Keyamo, urged the court to uphold his written submissions in opposition to the no case submission, and call on the accused to enter his defence.
"Without wasting the time of this court, I will only correct one notion, and that is that the prosecution's case does not concern lodgement, but transactions which took place before the lodgment.
"Transactions which were done without going through financial institutions, is what comes under the definition of money laundering," he said
Keyamo therefore, urged the court to uphold the objection of prosecution and call on the accused to enter his defence.
After listening to the submissions both counsels, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia adjourned the case till today for ruling.
The former Minister of Aviation was first arraigned sometime in December 2008 before Justice Ramat Mohammed on a 47-count charge. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was granted bail in the sum of N200 million with two sureties in like sum.
He was re-arraigned before Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako, following the transfer of Mohammed from Lagos Division.
The minister was again re-arraigned before Justice Ajumogobia on February 11 2013, after the transfer of Murtala-Nyako and re-arraigned again before Ajumogobia on March 6, following the amendment of the 47-count charge to 40-counts, the EFCC having dropped seven of the counts.
In the charge, the accused was also alleged to have accepted various cash payments above N500,000 without going through financial institution while he held sway as Minister of Aviation and Minister of Culture and Tourism respectively.
The offence is said to contravene the provisions of Sections 15(1) (a) (b) (c) (d) and 15 (2) (a) (b) of the Money Laundering (prohibition) Act, 2004.