Charged for Wiring $1.822m to himself, using pseudo name, *Taking possession of $360,000, proceeds of unlawful act, *Paid $1.4m for purchase of Abuja property, *Made cash payment of $2m for purchase of another Abuja property, Court remands defendants in custody, orders day-to-day trial By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, remanded the former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina in custody after he was arraigned on a 12-count money laundering charge.
The erstwhile pension boss, who was docked before Justice Okon Abang by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, pleaded not guilty to the entire charge.
The court ordered that he should be remanded in a Correctional Service Center, pending the hearing and determination of his bail request.
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Justice Abang adjourned to enable Maina’s lawyer to address the court on the import of section 356(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, relating to the competence of a bail application he filed before his client was arraigned.
He gave the defendants four days to prepare their defence, adding that Maina should be granted access to his lawyers by authorities of the Correctional Service.
Justice Abang equally gave the defendants 10 days to file written address on the competence of the bail summon.
Though the court adjourned the matter till October 30 for commencement of trial “without fail”, it fixed November 19 to hear Maina’s bail application.
Justice Abang warned that the trial would be conducted on a day-to-day basis, saying he would not entertain any frivolous application from any of the parties.
Belated attempt by Maina’s lawyer to withdraw the bail application was rebuffed by the trial Judge who noted that he had already ruled on the matter.
Similarly, EFCC, arraigned Maina’s son, Faisal, on a separate three-count charge that bordered on money laundering and illegal operation of a bank account.
The prosecution alleged that he had sometimes between 2013 and 2019, received the sum of N58.11million, being proceed of a corrupt act by his father.
He was also accused of failing to properly declare his assets before the EFCC.
Unlike in his father’s case, EFCC, persuaded the court to return Faisal to Police custody, noting that he is currently being investigated over his alleged possession of illegal firearms.
20-year old Faisal had reportedly pulled a gun to challenge operatives of the Department of State Service, DSS, that arrested his father at a hotel in Abuja on September 30.
Justice Abang adjourned his case till November 6 for trial.
Meantime, in the first case, EFCC, arraigned Maina alongside a firm, Input Properties Investment Limited, which the anti-graft agency said was used to launder proceeds of crime.
Aside allegation that the former PRTT boss used fictitious names to open and operate various bank accounts, EFCC, in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/256/2019, alleged that he used the firm to launder funds, part of which he used to acquire land properties in Abuja.
It alleged that Maina recruited his relatives that were staff of two banks, to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channeled.
The prosecution told the court that contrary to financial regulations, the two banks, opened phony accounts for the defendant, without conducting due diligence to ascertain the true identities of the owners.
It told the court that some of the bogus names Maina used to operate the accounts in a bid to conceal his true identity, included Aliyu Nafisatu and Dr. Abdullahi A. Fisal.
In count three of the charge, EFCC alleged that the defendant had sometime in 2014, taken possession of the sum of N171.91million that was paid into a bank account.
He was in count four, alleged to have taken possession of $360, 588.27, knowing that same was proceed of an unlawful activity.
Maina was alleged to have in 2012, opened account number 4510002782 with his pseudo name, Dr. Fisal, and subsequently wired $1.822m into the account.
In count 11, EFCC told the court that without going through any financial institution, the defendant, paid a cash sum of $1.4m to purchase a property in Abuja.
It said that the defendant had on June 27, 2012, made another cash payment of $2m through one Adamu Modibbo, for the purchase of another property in the Jabi District of Abuja.
The prosecution maintained that defendants committed criminal offences punishable under sections 11(2) (a), 15(3), and16(2)(c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, and also acted in breach of the Advance Fee Fraud Act.
Meanwhile, counsel to the 2nd defendant, Mr. Adeola Adedipe, urged the court to inline with section 478 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, enter a plea of not guilty for his client, being a corporate entity.
The prosecution counsel, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, had after the defendants entered their plea to the charge dated October 16, urged the court to allow him to call his first witness for the trial to commence immediately.
The application was however countered by Maina’s lead counsel, Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, who begged the court to release his client on bail, pending the determination of the case against him.
Contending that the law presumed the defendants innocent until the charge against them is proved, Raji, told the court that the EFCC earlier gave his client an “onerous” administrative bail that he was unable to fulfill.
More so, he told the court that his client had on October 22, filed and served the prosecution with an application for his release on bail.
He therefore prayed the court to hear the bail application before proceeding on full-blown trial.
However, the prosecution counsel relied on section 273 and 300(2) of the ACJA and applied for the trial to commence immediately, insisting that his witnesses were in court.
He argued that the defendants were accorded sufficient time to prepare for the trial, adding that the hearing notice stressed that parties should be ready to appear with their witnesses.
Though EFCC’s lawyer acknowledged that he was duly served with Maina’s bail application, he said the commission, upon realising that it was incompetent, decided not file a counter-affidavit to oppose it
“Whenever a competent application is filed, we will vehemently oppose it”, the prosecution counsel added.
He argued that the bail application was incompetent since it was filed before the actual arraignment took place.
“The application filed October 22 on behalf of the 1st defendant is incompetent and should be struck out.
“We urge my lord to the spirit of section 1(1) of the ACJA, 2015, section 19(2) (b) and (c) of the EFCC Establishment Act, 2004, and section 20 of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, as amended, allow us to call our first witness”.
At that juncture, Maina’s lawyer, Raji, SAN, told the court that he was not prepared to proceed with the trial, maintaining that his client was not accorded sufficient time to prepare his defence.
He contended that EFCC was not allowed by law to orally attack the competence of the bail application.
“This is a court of record and the prosecution knows what to do if he has an objection to an application that is duly filed.
“An objection of this nature is mandatorily supposed to be in writing, otherwise it would amount to an ambush”.
Raji decried that though section 36(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, provided that an accused person must be given adequate time and facility to prepare his defence, including granting him access to his lawyers, he accused EFCC of attempting to deny his client that right.
He told the court that though EFCC attached five volumes of evidence running into over 500pages to the charge, he said he was only given seven minutes to consult with his client while he was in detention.
Maina’s lawyer said he was neither granted privacy nor opportunity to write down anything when he interacted with his client at the EFCC.
After he had listened to both sides, in a bench ruling, trial Justice Abang, said he was not inclined to allow the prosecution to call its witnesses, stressing the need to allow the defendants to prepare their defence.
It will be recalled that the court had on Tuesday, ordered the temporary forfeiture of 23 properties that were allegedly traced to the former pension boss.
The order followed an ex-parte motion EFCC filed before the court.
Attached to the motion for interim forfeiture order, was a Schedule that contained a list of the 23 properties located across five states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja
Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo who granted the motion, however directed EFCC to publish the order in a national daily to enable any one that is interested in any of the properties, to within 14 days after the publication, show cause why it should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
EFCC had told the court that the 23 assets linked to the ex- PRTT Chairman, which it found in Abuja, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Borno, Sokoto and Kano state, were acquired with proceeds of crime.
The Commission said its investigations revealed that whereas Maina used pseudo names to acquire some of the properties, documents that were recovered from him further disclosed that he also used names of his wife, son, mother, his late father, as well as a company where his relations are directors.
It told the court that Maina massively looted funds meant for Federal Civil Service Pensioners through “a fraudulent nationwide numeric enrolment exercise of pensioners” which he spearheaded.
The agency said it uncovered the fraud which was perpetuated with names of fake pensioners, at the end of an investigation it conducted in 2010.