Azubogu Discharged, Acquited Over Alleged Estacodes Conversion
BEVERLY HILLS, CA, March 28, (THEWILL) - Relief came for the Vice Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market, Hon.
Chris Emeka Azubuogu, on Friday as the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal discharged and acquitted him over allegations that he dishonestly converted the sum of $4,095 given to him by the Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC) for a conference in the Dominican Republic.
In a lead judgement read by Justice Amiru Sanusi, the court held that the Abuja High Court which had held that Azubogu had a case to answer, erred in law when it dismissed his no-case submission after the respondent (the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) had failed to prove the essential elements of the offence of dishonest conversion.
Throughout the trial, Azubogu had consistently maintained his innocence, insisting that the SEC Director General, Aruma Oteh, was merely using the EFCC to harass and persecute him because she was being investigated by his committee since Oteh is a member of the EFCC Governing Council.
But in the judgement on Friday, the court described EFCC's case as frivolous, as Justice Sanusi stated: "The Prosecution Witness 1(PW 1) is an investigator with the EFCC and under cross examination he admitted that it was impossible for the applicant to have travelled to the Dominican Republic for the conference, as at the time the estacode was paid to him on the eve when the conference was supposed to end.
"They further admitted that the second accused person (Azubuogu) had offered to return the estacode, PW 4 a staff of SEC under cross examination admitted that when an estacode is collected and the person did not travel , another trip would be arranged for him, and the person can return the said money at any time, it is evident from the incontrovertible pieces of evidence, that there is no evidence before the trial court to prove that the appellant committed the said offence.
It is also evident that the second accused person had directed that the estacode be returned to SEC.
" He further held that there was ample unchallenged evidence at the end of the prosecution's case that there was no prima facie case against Azubogu.
He further held that neither was there a justifiable evidence to continue with the case.
"The most likely thing for the trial judge to do was to strike out the case.
"I resolve the two issues in favour of the appellant.
The appellant is discharged and acquitted," he said.
Azubogu's discharge and acquittal came two weeks after the chairman of the House Committee on Stock Market, Mr Herman Hembe, was discharged on similar grounds.
An Abuja High Court had on June 26 , 2013 refused the no-case submission filed by Azubuogu through his counsel, Onyechi Ikpeazu(SAN) and Emeka Etiaba.
In dismissing the no-case submission, the High Court said that the prosecution had proved a prima facie case against the applicant.
In the course of the trial at the High Court, it was established that Azubuogu returned his air tickets and estacodes to SEC when he could not make the trip to the Dominican Republic.
In the course of the trial, an operative of the EFCC, Udoh Anietan, the second prosecution witness who was led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Chile Okoroma, had told the court that the travelling ticket and estacode meant for the second accused person (Azubuogu) to travel for the conference which was between the 16th and 19th October 2011 was given to him on the night of the 19th through the clerk of the committee when the conference had ended.
On cross examination by counsel for the second accused person, Dr.
Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, who asked Udoh to a look at exhibit J which is a letter from All States Travels and Tours he admitted that Azubuogu did not have any contact whatsoever with SEC as it related to the said conference.
He also admitted the complaint against the 1st accused arose from the public hearing of March 15th 2012 adding that "in the course of investigation we retrieved documents from SEC which showed that the 2nd accused was also scheduled for the same conference they were supposed to embark on the journey from the 16-19th October 2011.
'Our investigation showed that the estacode meant for the 2nd accused person was delivered to Femi Ogunsanya the Clerk of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Markrt on October 19th, 2011 the day the conference was supposed to end.
I was not present when Ogunsanya gave the money to the 2nd accused person but he admitted receiving the money.
, " On whether he came across any document from SEC requesting that the accused persons return the estacodes he said he did not see any such letter and that there was no such letter from SEC.
Udoh also admitted that the Director-General of SEC Aruma Otteh occupied a position in EFCC as according to him: "I am aware that the Act setting up the EFCC provides that there should be a representative from SEC, and the DG is representing SEC on the EFCC Borad.
" On whether he was aware that the said $4095 which was delivered to Ogunsanya on the 19th was to enable the 2nd accused to attend the conference due to commence on the 17th he said "yes, that it is correct to say that he is unable to travel.
" EFCC had re-arraigned the accused lawmakers, on offences bordering on alleged conversion into personal use, an estimated N600,000 being money allegedly released by the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, for them to travel to the Dominican Republic, for a refresher conference in October 2011.
The offence, according to the anti-graft agency, was contrary to Section 308 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 2004, and punishable under Section 309 of the same code.
The two-count charge reads: "That you Hon.
Iorwase Herman Hembe, sometime in October 2011 in Abuja within the Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capi-tal Territory, dishonestly converted to your own use the sum of $4,095, being money given to you by the Securities and Exchange Commission as your travelling allowance to PUNCTA CANA, Dominican Republic, to attend a conference which you did not attend and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 308 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 2004 and punishable under section 309 of the same code.
"That you Hon.
Azubogu Chris Emeka Ifeanyi sometime in October 2011 in Abuja within the Judi-cial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capi-tal Territory dishonestly converted to your own use the sum of $4,095, being money given to you by the Securities and Exchange Commission as your travelling allowance to PUNCTA CANA, Dominican Repub-lic to attend a conference which you did not attend and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 308 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 2004 and punishable under section 309 of the same code.
" When the High Court rejected his no-case submission, Azubuogu proceeded to the Court of Appeal to challenge the decision on the grounds that the lower court erred in law when it dismissed the no-case submission when the respondent failed to prove the essential elements of the offense of dishonest conversion.
He further asked the Appeal Court to hold that the trial court erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of Justice when it held that the respondent established a prima facie case of dishonest conversion against him.
On Friday, the Appeal Court granted all his reliefs.