Subsidy fraud: Court closes EFCC’s case without witnesses
A Lagos High Court, Ikeja, on Tuesday closed the case of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, with 13 out of the 15 proposed prosecution witnesses yet to appear in court.
Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo made the order closing the prosecution's case, following a request by EFCC counsel to adjourn the matter in order to arrest one of the defendants, Mr. Oluwaseun Ogunbambo, who had allegedly absconded from trial.
He said,' you can't hold one defendant to a disadvantage because of a situation caused by another defendant.' The judge said the EFCC could still file an application to reopen the matter before the next trial date if they were able to arrest the wanted defendant before then. He added that prosecution could, in the alternative, file an application to amend the charges to strike out Ogunbambo's name.
The EFCC is prosecuting Ogunbambo along with Mamman Ali, Christian Taylor and their company - Nasser Oil Services Ltd - for alleged N4.4bn fuel subsidy fraud.
Mamman is a son of a former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Ahmadu Ali.
The trial of the defendants had been stalled for over six months following the continued absence of Ogunbambo from court.
Justice Onigbanjo, who presides over another matter in which Ogunbambo is also facing other subsidy fraud charges, had issued warrant of arrest against the accused. Ogunbambo is also being prosecuted for bank fraud charges before Justice Olabisi Akinlade of a Lagos High Court in Igbosere.
EFCC had declared Ogunbambo wanted but had been unable to arrest him.
The commission's counsel, Mr. Seidu Atteh, informed the court on Tuesday that he recently took over the matter from the former prosecuting counsel. Atteh said the EFCC had not been able to execute the bench warrant issued against Ogunbambo by the court. He, therefore, appealed to the court to adjourn shortly to enable the EFCC to produce Ogunbambo or amend the charges to remove defendant's name from the joint charges against all the defendants.
But Ali's lawyer, Mr. Toyin Pinheiro (SAN), opposed the request for the adjournment on the basis of Ogunbambo's absence. 'This matter commenced since July 2012. The prosecution listed 15 witnesses in the proof of evidence and they have only called two witnesses,' Pinheiro said.
The lawyer maintained that the EFCC should have done the needful by amending the charges earlier so that the matter could continue since they were aware that Ogunbambo had absconded. He said, 'I think the court has an inherent power to close their case. 'Section 36 of the Constitution talks about fair hearing which also connotes conclusion of the trial against an accused within a reasonable time. 'My humble application is for the court to close the case of the prosecution and we are ready to open our defence.' In a short ruling closing the prosecution's case, the judge said the court had a duty to conduct its activities in a timely manner.