Diezani pleads to face trial in Nigeria
Former Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke yesterday urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to order the Federal Government to facilitate her return to Nigeria to face trial.
She asked for an opportunity to defend allegations against her in a charge filed against a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dele Belgore and former National Planning Minister Abubakar Suleiman.
The prosecution said Mrs. Alison-Madueke allegedly shared $115,010,000 (about N35billion) to individuals in the 36 states ahead of the 2015 general elections.
Belgore and Suleiman allegedly received N450million.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accused them of conspiring to directly take possession of the N450million.
Mrs. Alison-Madueke was not listed as a defendant in the case. She is described as being “at large” in the charge.
Her lawyer Obinna Oniya told Justice Rilwan Aikawa yesterday about a pending application seeking to join the former minister as a defendant.
He said she was accused in counts one to four of giving money to Belgore and Suleiman, an allegation she would like to defend.
The lawyer said contrary to EFCC’s claim that Mrs. Alison-Madueke was at large, the former minister was in the United Kingdom and was willing to return to defend the allegations.
He said it would be against her right to fair hearing for the case to proceed without affording her the opportunity to defend herself.
“The statement made by the prosecution means that the applicant is going to be convicted without being given the opportunity to defend herself,” Oniya said.
The former minister is praying for an order mandating her to appear in court on the next adjourned date to plead to the charge, especially counts one, two, three and four “being a condition precedent for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the counts”.
She also asked for an order “mandating the Attorney-General of the Federation, being the agent of the complainant (Federal Republic of Nigeria), to facilitate the prompt appearance of the applicant in court on the next adjourned date, to take her plea and to defend the allegations made against her in counts 1, 2,3 and 4 of the charge.”
The application is on the grounds that trial had commenced and “is proceeding with considerable haste”, that she was accused of money laundering, that she was not served any notice of arraignment, and that she was not “at large”.
The lawyer said she “is willing to appear in court to defend herself” and that it was unfair to be left out of the list of defendants.
“It will be in the interest of justice to facilitate the appearance of the applicant in court in order to enable her defend herself.
“The applicant’s constitutional right to fair hearing is being infringed upon as the trial is proceeding in her absence in spite of the fact that allegations of astronomical proportion were made against her,” the grounds of the application read.
Oniya urged Justice Aikawa to hear and determine the application before going on with yesterday’s proceedings.
But, EFCC’s lawyer Rotimi Oyedepo opposed the application, saying it was not ripe for hearing.
“He (Oniya) should not even be heard. The application should not arrest the proceedings,” he said.
Oniya said he had attempted to serve Oyedepo with the processes in court yesterday, but that the prosecutor declined to accept the papers.
He said he also could not serve EFCC with the application on Friday as he was told that he came to their office late.
Oyedepo said he should go back to EFCC, and that it would be accepted.
Justice Aikawa said the court could not entertain the application until all the parties had been properly served.
He directed Oniya to serve EFCC and to write the court afterwards for a hearing date.
The trial continues today.
Another judge of the court, Justice Abdulazeez Anka, yesterday adjourned the hearing of an application for the final forfeiture of 58 houses allegedly belonging Alison-Madueke to October 11.
She allegedly bought the houses between 2011 and 2013 for $21,982,224 million (about N3.3bllion).
The case, which was before a vacation judge who ordered the interim forfeiture of the properties, has been permanently reassigned to Justice Anka.
It was fixed for hearing yesterday, but the respondents were absent.
Justice Anka directed that the hearing notice be issued to them.
EFCC said Mrs. Alison-Madueke paid $16,441,906 (N2.6billion) cash in several tranches and $5,540318 (N840,000,000) cash for the properties through four firms which held the titles in trust for her.
The properties include 29 terrace houses comprising eight four-bedroom penthouse apartments, six three-bedroom apartments, two three-bedroom maisonettes, two twin bedroom apartments and one four-bedroom apartment.