The correct status of a 14-count charge preferred by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke and four others at the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos is generating a heated controversy.
Besides Diezani, the four others on the controversial charge are former Executive Director of First Bank, Mr. Dauda Lawal, the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, Nnamdi Okonkwo, the former Executive Director of Sterling Bank, Lanre Adesanya and the former Group Executive Director of NNPC, Stanley Lawson.
The quintet was alleged to have been engaged in a conspiracy deal to conceal a US$153 million in Fidelity Bank.
It was reported on Tuesday that at the resumed hearing of the case before Justice Muslim Hassan of a Federal High Court, Lagos, on November 5, 2019, the anti-graft agency through its lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo dropped the corruption charges against almost all of the accused persons through an amended four-count charge with the exception of former Executive Director of First Bank, Mr. Dauda Lawal.
The report said that the EFCC had come to court on the said date with an amended four-count charge in the case retaining only the name of former Executive Director of First Bank, Mr. Dauda Lawal and withdrew the old composite charge which had Diezani and four others as defendants.
Reacting on Wednesday through a statement, the EFCC confirmed that the old charge containing all the five names was indeed withdrawn and substituted with a four-count charge which retained the name of the former Executive Director of First Bank, Mr. Dauda Lawal , but that the decision was never an intention to drop the charge against Diezani and others.
In a series of tweets on its verified social media handle on Wednesday, the anti-graft agency explained that it never dropped charges against the former Minister but split them to allow for a fresh arraignment of Alison-Madueke.
The tweets read: “The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC has been drawn to reports currently circulating in the social media purporting that the Commission had dropped the criminal charges against a former minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke and other persons indicted for money laundering.
‘The Commission enjoins members of the public to disregard the report which is false and misleading. At no time did the commission withdraw the charge, which is still before Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court, Lagos.
‘The only development was that the Commission took a prosecutorial decision to split the initial 14-count charge to enable separate arraignment of defendants following a spate of adjournments that prevented arraignment of the defendants more than one year after the case was listed.
‘The charges were first filed on November 28, 2018. Since then, every attempt to arraign the defendants had been frustrated by one excuse or the other.
‘In more than four times that the matter was called for arraignment, it was either Lanre Adesanya was sick, bedridden in a London Hospital or Nnamdi Okonkwo was hypertensive and on admission in a hospital or Stanley Lawson had had a domestic accident and could not appear in court.
‘It was clear that these recurring excuses were ploys to frustrate the arraignment. To get around this, the Commission took a deliberate decision, which was disclosed in open court, to separately prosecute the defendants in different courts.
‘This explains why the four-count amended charge brought against Dauda Lawal, a former executive director of First Bank, did not include other defendants, except the two who are at large (Diezani Alison-Madueke and Ben Otti).”