Respite came the way of a former Chief of Air Staff, Adesola Amosu, and two others as a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, yesterday, quashed the N21.5billion money laundering charge filed against them.
Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke, in a ruling, upheld a preliminary objection by defence challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case on the grounds that the defendants were serving officers of the military at the time the charge was filed before the court.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had re-arraigned the defendants on an amended 13-count charge bordering on money laundering to the tune of N21.5billion.
The EFCC first arraigned the defendants before Justice Mohammed Idris.
Trial had began but subsequently, Justice Idris was elevated to the Supreme Court, and the case was transferred to Justice Aneke.
The defendants were consequently, re-arraigned in 2018, on an amended 13-count charge bordering on conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.
But they all pleaded not guilty to the charge and were granted bails. Trial had since commenced before Aneke and the prosecution called its witnesses.
On June 1, 2023, counsel to the 1st defendant, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) filed a notice of preliminary objection and an affidavit of six paragraphs, challenging the jurisdiction of the court and urging it to quash the amended charge.
Defence had also argued that the first defendant was at all times material to the trial, a serving officer of the armed forces, who is subject to the trial by a court martial.
He submitted that section 16 and 18(a) of the money laundering Act 2011, (as amended), did not create the offence of criminal breach of trust for which the defendants were charged.
Also relying on an Appeal court’s decision in the case of Brig. Gen. Ja’faru Mohammed vs EFCC Chairman and others, defence had argued:
“That the court had held that the said offences in that case, were triable by a ‘court martial’ by virtue of section 114 of the Armed Forces Act, as they formed part of other civil offences prescribed for persons subject to service law,” he argued.
He had argued that the first defendant was at all time material to the instant trial, not just a serving officer but also the Chief of Air Staff and was subject only to the provisions of the service law, with regards to arrest, invitation, interview or investigation.
Defence had therefore, raised a sole issue for determination: “Whether the EFCC can arrest, arraign, and prosecute the first defendant, who was at all times material to trial, a serving military officer, without first complying with the provisions of section 114, 121, 123, and 270 of the Armed Forces Act, 2004.
Delivering his ruling yesterday Justice Aneke held that the prosecution neither admitted not denied the depositions of the defendants.
The judge held that as at June 23, 2016 when the original charge was filed before the court, one was not sure whether the first defendant was still a serving officer of the Armed forces, since his exact date of retirement was not stated.
The court, however, held that in the proof of evidence filed by the prosecution at paragraph 1688 and 1695, contained letters written by the prosecution to First City Monument Bank dated Jan. 30, 2015.
The court held that the letters showed that investigations into the instant charge had already begun as at January 30, 2015, by which time the affidavit evidence proved that the first defendant was still in service of the armed forces.
Reiterating the decision of the apex court in the case of Ja’faru Mohammed, the court held that the investigation of the first defendant was null and void.
“Therefore, the investigation of the defendant, the original charge, the amended charge and the arraignment which are all based on the illegal, null and void investigation, are equally null and void.
“Accordingly, prayers one, two and three sought by the first defendant in his motion on notice dated May 21, 2023 and filed June 1, 2023, are hereby granted,” he held.
The court also reached similar decision for the second and third defendants, and accordingly, quashed the charges.