By NBF News
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Former governor of Edo state, Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion and six others standing trial at the Federal High Court, Benin, for alleged money laundering and diversion of government funds could not be arraigned yesterday following a preliminary objection raised by their counsel, Ricky Tarfa (SAN). Charged along with the Edo State ex-governor were his younger brother, Mike Igbinedion, Patrick Eboigbodin, Gava Nigeria Ltd., Romrig Nigeria Ltd., CML Security and PML Nigeria Ltd.

Arguing his motion, Tarfa said the court lacked jurisdiction and competence to arraign the accused persons, adding that it was an abuse of court process for the court to do so.

He further argued that the accused persons could not be charged and tried for the same offences for which they were earlier convicted.

Citing Section 181 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA), Mr. Tarfa contended that the accused persons could only be prosecuted for fresh and distinct charges, adding that money laundering which formed part of the charges was also part of the earlier charges for which the former governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion was convicted.

In his reply, Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Rotimi Jacob, argued that the onus was on the applicant to show that he had been tried for criminal offence, which resulted in conviction or acquittal, stressing that the former governor had not shown that he had been tried, convicted or acquitted anywhere by a Federal High Court.

He argued that Igbinedion was only convicted under count one of the amended charge of 17 December, 2008, saying that under the charge, the former governor was convicted for failure to declare his asset (N3.5 million) in his bank account with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB).

According to the EFCC lawyer, the ingredient to prove the charge was the Asset Declaration Form, which the former governor filled.

Insisting that the present charges bordered on money laundering, Mr. Jacob stated that Igbinedion had to show that he had been convicted of the offence of money laundering.

According to the EFCC lawyer, there were series of transactions by the accused persons, bordering on money laundering. For instance, they were alleged to have withdrawn N250 million from Edo State Local Governments Account for alleged youth empowerment, N800 million from the same joint account for the purpose of funding the 2007 local government election, which was not conducted, yet the money was not refunded to the coffers of the state government.

Mr. Jacob further revealed that N2.1 billion was allegedly diverted by Gava Corporation and Gava was never convicted; that another N3.1 billion was allegedly laundered and diverted into the account of 6th accused while the 2nd accused had N100 million allegedly diverted into his account and one David Eriyo allegedly paid one billion naira into accounts of the 4th - 7th accused persons on the directive of the first accused.

He said nobody had been tried and convicted of these offences, arguing that EFCC's settlement with Igbinedion in the case for which he got a reduced sentence was based on the N3.5 million non-asset declaration and not N576 million traced to his account in GTB which was not known to EFCC.

The EFCC lawyer countered Tarfa's argument, urging the court to set aside the charges against the accused persons based on the ground that the accused persons had been tried, convicted, pardoned, and that the issues have been compounded.

According to Mr. Jacob, defence counsel's argument was conflicting. He added that the amount paid by the former governor in respect of his agreement with EFCC as fine, was not commensurate with the provisions of section 14 of the EFCC Act.

In respect of the defence counsel's submission, seeking to restrain the court from prosecuting the accused persons, Jacob argued that no one can restrain the court from prosecuting anyone.

He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the application and call on the accused persons to take their plea, pointing out that the application was an attempt to slow down the prosecution of the case.

Meanwhile, the trial judge, Justice Adamu Hobon, has adjourned ruling on the application for preliminary objection to May 31, 2011.