Diezani Alison-Madueke, former Petroleum Minister, has been freed from a Federal Government case against Jide Omokore and five others.
The action was taken by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Abuja Federal High Court, on Wednesday.
Omokore and others are facing a nine-count charge for alleged fraud.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) instituted the criminal charge against Omokore.
The EFCC alleged that he used his two companies to divert about $1.6 billion, being part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government.
Ruling in a motion on notice filed by Diezani, Justice Dimgba struck out count 8, where she was accused alongside Biggs, Membere and Mbanefo of aiding Omokore in committing money laundering offence.
The court upheld the submission of Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), counsel to Deziani, that it was wrong to mention a person in a charge without giving the person the opportunity to defend him or herself.
In the circumstances, the court overruled the arguments of the prosecution counsel, insisting that the right thing to do was to strike out the applicant’s name from the charge sheet.
Included in the case were Omokere’s two companies, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Ltd and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Ltd.
Other defendants were Victor Briggs, a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC); Abiye Membere, a former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and David Mbanefo, a former Manager, Planning and Commercial of the NNPC.
Diezani’s application was brought pursuant to Section 36(1), (5), (6), (A)-(E) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, as well as Sections 216(1), (2), (3), (4) and 217 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
In the application, she had prayed for an order amending the heading of the charge.
By the application filed on her behalf by Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), dated August 17, 2017, Dieziani asked for “an order mandating the applicant to appear in court on the next adjourned date of October 5, 2017, to plead to the charge, and in particular count 8, being a condition precedent for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the count.”
Deziani also prayed for an order mandating the Attorney-General of the Federation, being an agent of the Federal Government (complainant) to facilitate the prompt appearance of the applicant in court on October 5, to take plea and to defend herself over the allegations made against her in count 8.
Count 8 alleged that the applicant and three others did abet the commission of money laundering by certain named individuals and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
Diezani had argued that she was not served any notice of arraignment as the Federal Government was bound to.
Though she said she was willing to appear in court to defend herself, her name was surreptitiously left out of the list of defendants despite being a named defendant by virtue of the disclosures in count 8 of the charge.
She argued that her constitutional right of fair hearing was being infringed upon as the trial was proceeding in her absence in spite of the fact that allegations of astronomical proportion were made against her.
But in a counter affidavit, in opposition to the application, deposed to by one Rufai Zaki, a detective with the EFCC, the commission stated that most of the depositions in the affidavit in support of Diezani’s application were not correct and were aimed at misleading the court.
He averred that Deziani “is a fugitive who had escaped from Nigeria to avoid investigation and possible prosecution by the EFCC.”
The EFCC stated that Diezani was said to be currently in the United Kingdom facing some legal proceedings.
The EFCC maintained that granting the application would interfere with the exercise of the prosecutorial power of the AGF and the commission.
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Zaki stated that immediately Diezani knew that she was under investigation, based on intelligent report, “She absconded from Nigeria in order to escape the investigation and prosecution by the EFCC.”
Therefore, the EFCC, in urging the court to dismiss the application, said: “The prosecution cannot be compelled to charge a new party.”
The commission stated that there was nothing which empowered a person to apply to be joined as a co-defendant in a criminal case. (independent.ng)