Patience Jonathan’s $15.5m: Court rejects guilty plea reversal

The Federal High Court in Lagos Tuesday dismissed an application for a plea reversal by four companies that pleaded guilty to laundering $15.5million allegedly belonging to former First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan.

Patience JonathanThey prayed the court to nullify previous proceedings their trial because those who represented the companies were not authorised to do so.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned them with a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to President Jonathan, Dr Waripamo Dudafa, a lawyer Amajuoyi Briggs, who is the companies’ secretary, and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku.

Unlike the companies, Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty to the 17-count charge.

The companies’ lawyer Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) told Justice Babs Kuewumi that his clients were not given a fair trial before their conviction because they had no legal representation of their choice.

Ozekhome said he was briefed to represent the companies after its directors pleaded guilty despite not being authorised by the board to do so.

Moving his motion seeking to set aside the companies conviction, Ozekhome said they were convicted “in gross violation” of the 1999 Constitution, which he said occasioned a miscarriage of justice.

He prayed that the trial be done de novo (afresh) and that the previous proceedings be declared null, void and unsustainable in law.

Besides, Ozekhome said the companies were denied the right to cross-examine the directors who purportedly pleaded guilty.

“They’re just busybodies and interlopers who were pressured to come and plead guilty. They had no mandate to do so,” he said.

But, prosecuting Counsel Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo urged the court to refuse the application for being an abuse of court process.

He said prayer amounted to asking the judge to revisit his ruling and to assume the position of an appellate court.

Oyedepo denied that the directors who pleaded guilty were not authorised, saying there was evidence from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and from the companies’ bank accounts that they were indeed directors.

Ruling yesterday, Justice Kuewumi held that a judge can only revisit his rulings and judgments in exceptional cases of “serious procedural irregularity” or lack of jurisdiction.

“The main issue to be addressed in this application is whether this court can revisit its earlier decision whereby the applicants were convicted. Once a court gives and order or judgment, it has no legal competence to reverse itself or set aside its previous order.

“Considering the circumstances of this case, I have not been shown any valid reason to make me revisit my decision. This court is already functus officio (without authority over the subject-matter).

“I’m in agreement with the prosecution that this application is incompetent. It is hereby refused and accordingly dismissed,” Justice Kuewumi held.

He adjourned until October 17 for trial.

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