Nigeria: AGF Okays Ex-Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, CCECC’s Trial

The delay in the issuance of legal advice by the AGF had caused delays in the trial of ex-aviation minister, Stella Oduah, and CCECC on money laundering charges.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has approved of the trial of a former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, a Chinese construction giant, CCECC, and others.

Mr Malami’s legal advice to the EFCC for the defendants’ prosecution was presented to the judge, Inyang Ekwo, of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday.

At Wednesday’s proceedings, the prosecuting lawyer, Hassan Liman, told the judge that the AGF had in a letter dated 11 October, 2022, authorised the EFCC to “prosecute the defendants.”

The case had been adjourned seven consecutive times to await Mr Malami’s legal advice, stalling the arraignment of Ms Oduah, now a senator representing Anambra North Senatorial District.

She is charged alongside others with 25 counts of money laundering.

Her absence from court had also contributed to the stalling of proceedings in the case.

The judge, also in July 2021, threatened to issue a warrant for the arrest of Ms Oduah, over her failure to appear in court for

She was not in court along with the 4th defendant, Chukwuma Chinyere. Again, Ms Chukwuma was absent from Wednesday’s court session.

Ms Chukwuma’s lawyer, Odion Odia, told the judge that his client was ill and could not make her way from Asaba, Delta State to the court.

The lawyer to Ms Oduah, Onyechi Ikpeazu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and counsel for the nine defendants in the suit, acknowledged receipt of the AGF’s legal advice.

The judge the fixed February 13, 2023, for trial.

Marathon trial for five days

Mr Ekwo gave five consecutive days (February 13 to 17) for the defendants to take their plea, and for the prosecution to commence trial.

The judge warned lawyers to the parties in the suit to be prepared for the scheduled day-to-day trial, adding that he would not take any objection to admissibility of documentary evidence.

“Objection to admissibility of documentary evidence will be taken at the end of trial,” Mr Ekwo said.

The judge directed the prosecuting lawyer “to bind and paginate all documentary evidence of the prosecution witnesses.”

Mr Liman told the court that 32 witnesses are set to testify against Ms Oduah and her co-defendants.

He explained that the long adjournment was to give both the prosecution and defence teams “adequate time for trial.”

The suit was adjourned until 13 February 2023, for trial.

Backstory

The scheduled arraignment of Ms Oduah, alongside Chinese construction giant, CCECC, and six others, charged with laundering funds to the tune of N5 billion, was stalled on 10 May.

The arraignment was initially stalled on 9 February due to the non-service of the charges on the defendants.

PREMIUM TIMES reported that most of the defendants were subsequently served, but Mr Liman informed the judge at the February 22, 2021 proceedings that the prosecution still could not serve two of the defendants – Global Offshore and Marine Ltd, and Tip Top Global Resources Ltd.

Mr Liman, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the EFCC, then applied to the court to have the two defendants served through their last known addresses.

The judge granted the application, ordering that “service to be effected within 14 days of this order.”

But Mr Ekwo also reminded the prosecution that they had taken two of the five adjournments they were entitled to under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

One of the co-defendants is Gloria Odita (2nd defendant), who is said to be an aide to Ms Oduah when she was Minister of Aviation, and company secretary of Sea Petroleum & Gas Company (SPGC) Limited, a firm founded by the former minister.

The rest are, an employee of SPCG and aide to Ms Oduah, Nwobu Nnamdi (3rd defendant), Chukwuma Chinyere (4th defendant), Crystal Television Limited (7th defendant), and Sobora International Limited (8th defendant).

The 9th defendant is CCECC Nigeria Ltd, the Nigerian subsidiary of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) established by the Chinese government to execute international contracts and economic cooperation.

Charges

This newspaper had reported how the EFCC on December 17, 2020 filed 25 counts accusing the defendants of laundering various sums of money totaling about N5,052,415,984 between February and June 2014.

The EFCC accused the defendants of conspiracy to commit money laundering, transferring, taking control and taking possession of proceeds of fraud, aiding and abetting money laundering and opening anonymous bank accounts.

Specifically, the prosecution alleged in two of the 25 counts that Ms Oduah and Ms Odita opened anonymous “Private Banking Nominee” dollar and naira accounts with First Bank, thereby committing an offence contrary to section 11(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended) and punishable under section 11(4) (a) of the same Act.

PREMIUM TIMES’ review of the charges showed that CCECC Nigeria Limited allegedly transferred over N2.5 billion into the naira account of Private Banking Nominee between March 31 and June 6, 2014.

In seven of the counts where CCECC is indicted singly and along with Ms Oduah and Ms Oditah, the company was accused of “conspiring with the women to commit money laundering, and directly transferring to Private Banking Nominee account various sums of money totalling N2,583,385,246 which it reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity to wit: fraud… “

The prosecution alleged for instance in Count 17, that CCECC Nigeria, “on various dates between March 5, 2014, and May 30, 2014” in Abuja “directly transferred the sum of N868409,349.00 from your account with Zenith Bank Place to Private Banking Nominee Account 2024414450 domiciled with First Bank Plc, which money you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful act to wit: fraud… “

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