A file photo of a court gavel.
A Federal High Court in Abuja has acquitted and discharged Mrs. Ochuko Momoh, wife of a former Managing Director of Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, Haruna Momoh and five others on money laundering related charges.
In a judgment delivered on Thursday, Justice Taiwo Taiwo held that the prosecution failed to discharge the burden of proving its case against the defendants beyond reasonable doubt.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), had filed a 22 counts against Mrs. Momoh and her co-defendants, Blessing Azuka-Agozi, StanbicIBTC Bank Plc, Energopol Nigeria Limited, Blaid Construction Limited and Blaid Farms Limited.
The ICPC, in the charge accused Mrs. Momoh of laundering funds estimated at about N3 billion through her companies – Blaid Construction and Blaid Farms.
Azuka Agozi was alleged to have reneged on her promise to provide ICPC’s investigators with documents relating to the contracts Energopol Ltd allegedly executed for the PPMC, for which it was allegedly paid huge sums.
The ICPC also accused Stanbic IBTC of failing to report suspicious transactions in the accounts of Blaid Construction and Blaid Farms to the relevant authorities as required by law.
In his judgment on the matter, Justice Taiwo upheld the argument by Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ade Adedeji who represented Mrs Momoh, that the prosecution’s case was based on mere speculation and conjecture, having failed to conduct credible investigation to support its allegations against the defendants.
The judge also resolved the sole issue identified for determination – whether the prosecution proved the 22 counts against the defendants beyond reasonable doubt – against the prosecution.
On the alleged offence of money laundering, the judge held that the prosecution failed to prove the predicate offence by establishing that the funds allegedly laundered were proceeds of crimes or other unlawful acts.
On the claim that Blaid Construction unlawfully got contract from the PPMC, Justice Taiwo held that there was no evidence to show that Haruna Momoh (as the MD, PPMC) committed any offence when his wife’s firm got contract during his tenure.
The judge noted that the prosecution failed to show how Blaid Construction benefited from Mrs. Momoh’s husband’s alleged favouritism to the detriment of others.
He added that the prosecution also failed to show that Blaid Construction was not qualified to be awarded the contract for which it was paid over N200million and that the project contracted to it was not well executed.
Justice Taiwo further held that the prosecution failed to show that the transactions, where N10m was paid in tranches into the accounts of Blaid Construction and Blaid Farms were suspicious to support its allegation against StanbicIBTC.
He held that having not established that the funds deposited in StanbicIBTC were proceeds of crime or unlawful acts, it was wrong for the prosecution to accuse the bank of failing to report suspicious transaction when the deposits were within the threshold set by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Justice Taiwo proceeded to vacate the interim order of forfeiture obtained against the assets and funds belonging to Mrs. Momoh and her companies, as requested by their lawyer.
The judge said: “In the final analysis, the case of the prosecution was entirely based on suspicion, without any reliable ground.
“The investigation allegedly carried out was without merit and unable to establish the allegations against the defendants.
“This court holds that it will only rely on probable facts and not suspicion and conjecture as resented by the prosecution in this case.
“The law remains trite that doubts arising from criminal proceedings must be resolved in favour of the defendant.
“Consequently, the prosecution, having failed to discharge its onerous duty of proving the 22 counts against the defendants beyond reasonable doubt, the defendants are hereby discharged and acquitted of all counts of the charge,” Justice Taiwo said.