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Igbinedion convicted, fined

Posted by By Adelani Adepegba, Enugu on 2008/12/19 | Views: 1224 |

Igbinedion convicted, fined

A former Edo State Governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, was on Thursday convicted on a one-count charge of corruption by the Federal High Court, Enugu.

A former Edo State Governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, was on Thursday convicted on a one-count charge of corruption by the Federal High Court, Enugu.

Igbinedion will, however, not go to jail as he was merely fined N3.6m.

The light sentence was the result of a plea-bargain arrangement the former governor entered into with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

But the commission, which arraigned him alongside four companies in which he had interests in, rejected the judgment, saying it would go on appeal.

The EFCC, which had filed a 191-count charge of corruption, money laundering and embezzlement against Igbinedion and the companies made a volte face on Wednesday by dropping the charges. It filed an amended 24-count but arraigned him on just a count.

Igbenedion, who had earlier pleaded not guilty to the 191-count charge, admitted being liable to the one-count charge.

The single charge reads, "That you, Lucky Igbinedion (former governor of Edo State) on or about January 21, 2008, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court neglected to make a declaration of your interest in the account No. 41240113983110 with GTBank in the declaration of Assets Form of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 27(3) of the EFCC Act, 2004."

The second accused, Kiva Corporation, was convicted on two of the 23 count- charge levelled against it and ordered to pay N500m fine and to forfeit its landed properties.

The properties include a parcel of land at Asokoro, Abuja, a detached building on two plots comprising four- bedroom and two outer houses in GRA, Benin, and a storey building also in Benin, to the Federal Government.

Igbinedion, who came with a few of his aides, paid the fine within minutes after the verdict and was driven away in a white Peugeot 307 marked Nasarawa AG 16 NSW.

During the proceedings, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, informed the court that the EFCC had withdrawn the charges against the accused and filed amended charges against them.

The former governor thereafter, entered the dock where he pleaded guilty.

Jacobs had told the court that the former governor failed to disclose in his assets declaration form that he had N3, 579, 524.16 in his GTBank account.

He tendered five exhibits, including the certified true copy of the assets declaration form, the statement of account of Kiva Corporation which showed how monies were paid into the GTBank account; and payment vouchers from the Edo State Government House showing how monies were withdrawn and lodged into the account of the company.

The index of payment received from government house showing withdrawals and payments of money to the company was also tendered.

The prosecution urged the court to consider the ingredients under count two and three where payments totaling N30m was made to Kiva Corporation on January 10, 2007 and another sum of N70m paid to the same company on May 17, 2007 by one Pat Eboigbodin, an Edo State Government official.

"These showed that the company retained the proceed of crime and Your Lordship is empowered under section 16 of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2004 to convict the accused for the offence," Jacob said.

It urged the court to take the facts as stated and to convict accordingly.

Igbinedion's lawyer, Mr. Adetunji Oyeyipo (SAN), did not object.

The former governor was then directed to confirm the ingredients of the facts which he did.

Shortly before Justice Abdullahi Kafarati adjourned to prepare the judgment, Oyeyipo made an allocutus (plea for mitigation of sentence).

He prayed the court to consider the fact that his client voluntarily returned to the country from a foreign trip when he learnt that the EFCC had filed charges against him.

Oyeyipo said, "Your Lordship would observe that on occasions when he was granted leave to travel, he had always returned to face trial.

"Even when he acquired the e-passport, without any prompting, he submitted the passport to the court. The accused was charged with neglecting to make a declaration of assets, but he didn't willfully refuse or knowingly refuse to disclose his interest in an account.

"The amount in the account as stated by the prosecution is N3, 579, 524.16; this is not an amount he would ordinarily want to hide. My Lord, the account is that of a first offender and this offence is a strict liability offence.

"Taking the circumstances into consideration, the status of the accused before he became Edo State Governor and also as a former governor, we respectfully urge your Lordship to impose the mildest punishment sir, particularly, having regards to section 382 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Act which is applicable in this count."

In his judgment, Justice Kafarati convicted Igbinedion and Kiva Corporation as charged by virtue of the facts and exhibits presented before him.

Kafarati took cognisance of what he called the demeanor of the accused and the severity of his offence before pronouncing the verdict.

He said, "Having considered the charge against the first accused and since the amount is negligible, he is therefore sentenced to a fine of N3, 579, 524.16, being the amount in the GTBank account he failed to declare.

"He should be remanded in EFCC custody until he pays the fine," the judge ordered.

Oyeyipo thanked the judge for the 'wise exercise' of his power.

But the EFCC later issued a statement in which it said that it was disappointed by the judgment of the court.

It claimed in the statement by its Head, Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Babafemi, that it "would rather go the long way of prosecution than to settle for a plea-bargain verdict that has no bite or will not serve any deterrence purpose."

The statement reads, "The former governor had sought for a plea-bargain in the course of his prosecution by the EFCC. The outcome of the exercise at the court in Enugu however fell short of our expectation.

"It is believed that the essence of a plea-bargain is not only for suspects to forfeit the proceeds of crime but that such should go with a sentence which will serve as deterrent.

"In view of this development, the Chairman of the EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri, has instructed the commission's counsel to file an appeal against the verdict immediately."

Oyeyipo later told journalists that the summary of the charges against his client "either in their original or amended form, bordered on the use of security votes or utilisation of duty tour allowance."

The Senior Advocate added that the experience of his client in the past 11 months had been humbling and traumatic.

Jacobs, in an interview with our correspondent, said he was neither happy nor sad over the judgment.

He said, "The judge exercised his discretion in sentencing the accused, so there was nothing we could do. I may appeal if directed to do so, but the fact that the accused is convicted is enough."

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Comments (3)

Abieyuwa(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Otasowie means evening life is better than morning life. There is an error in your “evening life is better than evening life”?

Naija g(Houston, Minnesota, US)says...

Sokari doesn’t mean joy. Joy is Biobela. Go to the village and ask the meaning of the name.

Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.