Alleged N22.8bn Fraud: Ex-Air Force Chief Amosu Begins Plea Bargain
A former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosu (rtd) and 10 others facing a N22.8billion fraud trial are in talks with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to enter plea bargain with the Federal Government.
The EFCC tendered a draft copy of the terms of the potential plea bargain before Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos yesterday.
Amosu is standing trial alongside Air Vice Marshal Jacob Adigun and Air Commodore Gbadebo Olugbenga, all of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), and eight private firms.
The firms include Delfina Oil and Gas Limited, Mcallan Oil and Gas Limited, Hebron Housing and Properties Company Limited and Trapezites BDC Fonds and Pricey Limited.
Others are Deegee Oil and Gas Limited, Timsegg Investment Limited and Solomon Health Care Limited.
The defendants were arraigned by the anti-graft agency on June 29, on a 26-count charge of conspiracy, stealing, money laundering, concealing of proceeds of crime and conversion of funds belonging to the Air Force to their personal use.
They were alleged to have committed the offences between March 5, 2014 and May 4, 2015.
According to the commission, the offences contravene Sections 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012, and are punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.
But they entered a plea of innocence following which Amosu, Adigun and Olugbenga were granted bail of N500m each with two sureties in the like sum.
Justice Idris also ordered them to deposit their passports in the custody of the court pending trial.
At the resumed hearing of the matter yesterday, EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, informed the court that the defendants had began plea bargain negotiations with the government.
He tendered a draft copy of the terms of the plea bargain to the court and indicated that the defendants were already in possession of their copies of the terms.
Oyedepo urged the court to allow the commission to open the defendants’ trial.
But defence counsel, comprising Mr. Norrison Quakers (SAN), Mr. Kemi Balogun (SAN), Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), Mr. Rotimi O. (SAN) and Mr. A. Etuokwu, opposed the commencement of trial.
They informed the court that the business of the day was for report of compliance with the order of the court regarding the verification of the defendants’ bail conditions.
The EFCC, they argued, failed to inform the court that it had yet to obey the order
Amosu’s lawyer, Chief Ayorinde, said: “The prosecution left out a fundamental issue, which is the court admitting bail to the accused. As at now, the accused are still in the custody of the commission or prisons’ custody. We have satisfied all the conditions.”
In his argument, Quakers said the prosecution was not in a position to tell the court that it was ready for trial.
“We are in court to inform it as to the state of affairs as par the bail. We are surprised that the prosecution failed to tell the court the steps taken on the bail. Let the prosecution tell the court the report of their finding,” he said.
Although Quakers admitted that the defendants’ lawyers met with the EFCC for the plea bargain, he said since the first meeting, the commission failed to communicate with them, and only served them the draft of the agreement in court yesterday.
He added that though the defendants initiated the idea of a plea bargain, they needed to be out of the EFCC custody before they would be able to negotiate properly with the prosecution.
“When a man is in a custodian environment, anything you want him to say, he would say; anything you want him to do, he would do. We should not be stampeded or boxed into a corner,” Quakers said.
He argued further that defendants were entitled under Section 36(6) (b) of the 1999 Constitution to be given adequate time and facility to prepare their defence.
Olugbenga’s lawyer, Mr. Etuokwu, while aligning himself with the submissions of the two senior lawyers, urged the court to discountenance the prosecution’s applications to commence the trial .
But, opposing them, Oyedepo referred the court to its former ruling which stated that the matter was slated for trial.
“The court will also see that we did not oppose the bail applications. We didn’t induce them to approach us for plea bargain.
“On the issue of verification, we are in the process of complying with the court order. The accused persons took their pleas and on the second day, the court registrars forwarded some documents to the commission for authentication, and we took our time during the holidays to verify these documents.
“I urge the court to allow us, if they said they no longer believe in the plea bargain, we are ready for trial”.
After arguments by the parties, Justice Idris, in a bench ruling, upheld the defendants’ request and ordered the EFCC to conclude the verification of the defendants’ bail conditions on or before Monday, July 11.
The court also noted that the defendants had shown a “clear, positive and strong intention” to settle with the government.
The judge adjourned till September 12 and 13 for trial.
According to the charge, the accused persons are alleged to have converted of N21, 467, 634, 707.43 billion, property of the NAF, which sum was derived from stealing, to their personal use.
They were also accused of indirectly converting N5, 291, 306, 950.28 billion, N3.6billion property of the NAF.
In another instance, the EFCC also alleged that Amosu and the others stole N323, 319, 283.81 from the accounts of the NAF to purchase for themselves a property situated at No.1, River Street, Wuse II Abuja.
Amosu, Adigun and Olugbenga were also alleged to have between July 17 and September 16, 2014, “used the British Pounds Sterling equivalent of the sum of N663, 443,291 million, removed from the accounts of the Nigerian Air Force to purchase for yourselves two properties situated at 50-52 Tenterden Grove, London (NW41TH) and 93B Shirehall Park, London NW4 2QU, United Kingdom.”
Other counts include purchasing a property situated at 1, River Street, Wuse II Abuja with N202, 920, 200 million, belonging to the NAF and jointly removing N428, 139, 539 million, from the NAF accounts “to renovate and purchase medical equipment for their hospital, Solomon HealthCare Limited, located at 24, Adeniyi Jones Street, Ikeja, Lagos.”