Public attention will shift to the Federal High Court Benin, Edo State, today, April 30, 2015 as Justice J. Liman sentences Michael Igbinedion, younger brother to Lucky Igbinedion, former Edo State governor and Charles Eboigbodin . The duo alongside their companies; Gava Corporation Limited; Romrig Nigeria Limited; PML Securities Company Limited and PML Nigeria Limited, were yesterday, convicted by Justice Liman of the charges of money laundering, misappropriation of funds and abuse of office brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, but reserved sentencing for Thursday April 30, 2015.
The convicts who were docked on an 81- count charge had pleaded not guilty upon arraigning setting the stage for a full trail. In the course of trial, the prosecution called several witnesses to prove its case.
It would be recalled that during trial, a prosecution witness Mr. Ajoyo Sowale, an Accounts Officer with the Guaranty Trust Bank, identified various account statements and account opening documents of the convicts and confirmed to the court that several lodgements were made into the accounts, and that he printed the account statements and got them certified by the appropriate authority.
Another witness Mr. Eriyo Amadiayagbon David who was Personal Assistant to Micheal Igbinedion also told the court how he was instructed on several occasions to make lodgements into his(Igbinedion) GTB account and those of Romrig Nigeria Limited and Gava Corporation. According to David, he usually received cash from the Accountant at the Government House and paid into the account of the second accused person. “And after paying the government entourage, the remaining cash was usually given to the ADC to the Governor,” he stated. David further identified his name on the printed account statement of Michael Igbinedion which is part of the exhibits before the court.
Abdullahi Hamza an EFCC operative who was also a witness in the trial, gave detailed account of how state funds were diverted by the convicts for personal purposes, such as buying of shares, and how funds were transferred into the account of Ekpenyong and Sons, a company owned by the first accused person, Patrick Eboigbodin.
The parties adopted their written addressed in November14, 2014 , while judgment was reserved for December 1, 2014. But a series of adjournments forced delay in the delivery of the ruling, On April 10, 2015, the parties had to re-adopt their written addresses after the expiration of the 90 days constitutionally prescribed for judgment to be delivered after the adoption of written addresses. April 17 was again fixed for ruling but this too was moved to April 27.
When justice Liman finally delivered his ruling today, after putting it off for two consecutive days( Monday, April 27 and Tuesday, April28 ), he found the two accused persons guilty on some of the counts. The judge convicted Eboigbodin for money laundering under counts 50-59 in line with the provisions of Section 14 of the Money Laundering Act, while Igbinedion was pronounced guilty as charged on counts79-81. But the offence covered by these counts relates to making cash payments which under Section 15 B of the Money Laundering Act carries both “a fine of not less than N250,00 or more than N1million or a term of imprisonment of not less than 2 years or to both fine and imprisonment.”
The fact that Igbinedion was not convicted for money laundering, like his co-accused, watchers of the trial opines, gives the judge the leeway to give him a slap on the wrist by sentencing him to only a fine.
A few years ago, Lucky Igbinedion, former Edo Sate governor who is also an accused person in this case, received a slap on the wrist in a controversial judgment by the Federal High Court, Enugu. Justice Abdullahi Kafarati offered him an option of N3.5million fine after finding him guilty on one count charge of corruption. Till today the judge is still haunted by the ruling.
Will history repeat itself today?