Consequent upon the ruling of the Federal High Court Abuja, discharging Prof. Bridget Omotunde Sokan, former executive secretary, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and six others, who were charged over alleged N787 million fraud, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has filed a notice of appeal at the Court of Appeal, Abuja division, challenging the decision of the lower court and asking that the said ruling be set aside.
Justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court, Abuja had in his ruling on September 19 discharged the former UBEC Executive Secretary and six other accused persons upholding their ‘no case’ submission.
The other accused persons who were first arraigned on May 18, 2009 on a 63-count charge, which bordered on fraudulent inducement, criminal conspiracy and subversion of due processes in the award of contract and other offences are Molkat Manasseh Mutfwang, Dr. Andrew Ekpunobi, Michael Aule and the companies used in perpetrating the fraud, Intermarkets USA; Intermarkets Nigeria Limited and Alexander John Cozman, a foreign contractor.
In the notice of appeal filed before the appellate court, EFCC is seeking a review of the ruling of the lower court on two grounds, which are, that the trial judge erred in law by upholding and granting the 1st 7th respondents’ application for a ‘no-case’ submission in spite of the evidential materials, oral and documentary before the lower court at the close of the prosecution’s case.
According to Wahab Shittu, counsel to the EFCC, the prosecution had placed before the lower court 75 legally admissible and admitted materials, including indicting oral testimonies of 7 witnesses providing prima facie evidence entitling the accused/respondents to enter into their defence and offer explanations in respect of the 41-count charge preferred against them at the lower court.
Shittu submitted that the evidence adduced by the prosecution against all the accused persons, was neither discredited as a result of cross examination nor manifestly unreliable as erroneously held by the trial court, stating that the court did not address its mind to the fact that at the stage of a ‘No Case’ submission, questions do not arise as to whether the court believed the evidence tendered.
Citing a plethora of authorities, Shittu argued that it was premature at the stage of trial for the Judge to determine if evidence was sufficient to justify a conviction. He submitted that the lower court made a far-reaching and conclusive pronouncements touching on the credibility of witnesses, the guilt or innocence of the accused/respondents including detailed evaluation of evidence tendered in the proceedings, which ought not to have arisen for consideration at the stage of a no case submission.
On the second ground of appeal, EFCC submits that the trial judge erred in law on the purport and meaning of jurisprudence of prima facie in reaching a decision that the accused/respondents had no case to answer. The Commission maintained that according to several authorities, prima facie means ‘ground for proceeding’ and not same as ‘proof’ which comes later when the court has to determine whether an accused is guilty or not.
“It is a settled law that prima facie case is the minimal incriminating evidence that must be apparent to the court when the prosecution closes in a criminal trial”, the EFCC counsel submitted.
Finally, the appellant submits that the lower court did not give weight to the legally admissible evidence (report)from the auditor general of the Federation, marked exhibit 6, indicting the accused persons neither did it weigh in other reports from the State Security Services (SSS) marked exhibit 10 and the investigative report of EFCC also marked exhibit 59. Date was yet to be fixed for hearing of the appeal.
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