It took a six-hour ruling by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja Tuesday to nail the final coffin in a four-year criminal trial of Olisa Metuh, a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman in a N400 million Armsgate fraud and money laundering.
Metuh was sentenced to seven-year imprisonment by the court.
His conviction borderedon money laundering and corruption charges while holding sway as the party’s spokesperson ahead of the 2015 presidential election.
Metuh was found guilty and convicted accordingly of all the seven-count charge of laundering N400million which he claimed came through the Office of the National Security Adviser in November 2014.
The court also convicted Metuh for transacting with a cash sum of $2million without going through a financial institution in violation of a provision of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
He was arraigned by the anti-graft agency alongside his company, Destra Investment, on an amended seven-count charge of diversion of the money received from former NSA Sambo Dasuki.
The defendants had on February 18, 2016, pleaded not guilty to all the counts.
In the course of the trial, the prosecution called eight witnesses while the first defendant (Metuh) called 14 witnesses and himself as the fifteenth witness, the second defendant called one witness.
Although while the trial lasted, Metuh tried to call two key witnesses: a former president, Goodluck Jonathan, and Dasuki with the hope that their statement or evidence would vindicate him.
While Dasuki, himself standing trial elsewhere appeared in 2017, he feigned ignorance on the alleged money, saying he had lost memory on the issue.
He was to later merely confirm that the contract was legally awarded and payment made, and executed based on its terms.
Dasuki nevertheless insisted he would not be able to confirm or deny anything further relating to Metuh’s case unless he had access to his own records.
On its part, the former president did not show up to testify despite being fingered as the person who, in his capacity as C-in-C, allegedly authorised the NSA to give out the contract.
Blueprint reports that former President Jonathan had asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to compel the former PDP publicity scribe to pay N1billion to cover his travel expenses to appear as a defence witness in Metuh’s trial.
Jonathan’s counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, asked the court to either set aside the subpoena for his appearance or compel the defendant to pay the amount.
Ozekhome told the court that the demand for the payment was in line with the provisions of Section 241 subsection 2 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and was meant to cover travel expenses for himself and his security personnel from his hometown in Otuoke, Bayelsa state to Abuja.
The amount, according to him, would also cover logistics and provision of tight security to cover whatever time the former president would spend appearing before the court.
Ozekhome told the court that the application was supported by eight grounds and that the court ought to hear the application.
The grounds included; that the evidence Metuh is seeking from Jonathan would amount to an invasion of his privacy and family life as provided for in Section 37 of the Constitution.
Another ground was that the evidence would expose the former president to a criminal charge; penalty or forfeiture, arguing also that the grounds for the subpoena was frivolous
Ruling on the matter, Justice Abang held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) successfully proved that the transaction violated the anti-money laundering law which pegs the maximum cash transaction an individual could undertake outside a financial institution at N5million.
Consequently, Justice Abang sentenced Metuh to seven-year imprisonment for counts 1, 2, 4 and 7, five years for count 3, and three years for counts 5 and 6 respectively, which in its totality added up to 39 years’ jail term.
The sentences will however run concurrently.
By implication, the convicted person would only spend the highest number of years of jail term, which is seven, in prison custody.
In another pronouncement, the judge also ordered Metuh to pay a fine of N375million to the federal government while Destra Investments was equally ordered to pay N25million to the federal government.
Besides, the judge ordered the winding up of the company (Destra) while the accounts in Diamond Bank and Asset Resource Management should be closed and proceeds forfeited to the federal government.
His journey to prison
After hearing out parties’ arguments, Metuh was found guilty and convicted of all the seven charges filed against him by the EFCC.
On count one, the judge held: “It is my view that Metuh took possession of the N400 million from the office of the NSA without contractual agreement; he is guilty of money laundering and is hereby convicted on count one.”
On count two, the court also found him guilty of converting the N400 million which was meant for national security to fund activities of the PDP.
Justice Abang held further that Metuh used the money to acquire a property at Banana Island in Lagos.
The judge noted further that the action was contrary to the e-payment mandate which stated that the money was meant for security services, whereas Dextra Investment was not a registered security outfit.
The court ruled that the evidence before the court pointed out the fact that the money was deliberately laundered to support the PDP 2015 general electioneering campaign.
In the same vein, the judge said Metuh failed to explain the transfer of N50million from the N400 million to the joint account of himself and his wife.
“It is, therefore, manifestly clear that the defendant converted the money for PDP campaign activities and I find him guilty and is hereby convicted accordingly,” the judge affirmed.
On count three which bordered on concealment of funds, Justice Abang held that the e-payment mandate showed that the money was released for security services but was concealed and used for PDP campaign activities and for personal use.
“I hereby find him guilty and convicted on count three,” Abang ruled.
On count four, which bordered on the allegation of illegal disbursement of funds, the judge said the prosecution placed credible evidence before the court, saying the evidence showed some of the unlawful acts perpetrated by the office of the NSA.
The judge held: “The first defendant was desirous of repositioning the PDP and he deployed the funds for that purpose and personal use.”
Justice Abang also queried that despite the claim by Metuh that ex-President Jonathan authorised the payment of the said amount at a ‘security meeting’, he wondered why only the former NSA and top PDP officials attended the meeting.
Abang stressed that the first defendant was not a witness of truth.
In furtherance, he said: “I agree with the prosecution that Metuh’s claims are tissues of lies hurriedly put in place to divert the attention of the court from prying into the disbursement of the N400 million received from the office of the NSA through an under the table agreement.
“It is a case of public funds filtering into private hands for selfish reasons.”
Abang then held that the N400 million was never released for a special national assignment based on the evidence before him.
He then ruled: “Therefore, I find the first and second defendants guilty on count four.”
Justice Abang further said he had considered the arguments of the defendants on counts five and six which deal with making cash transactions above the statutory threshold of N5 million for individuals and N10 million for corporate bodies.
He said, “I agree with the prosecution that the defendants committed the offence by handing over raw cash of $2 million dollars to a Bureau de Change (BDC) operator to change same into naira.
“From the evidence placed before me, the BDC is not even a registered operator. The transaction is therefore, undocumented and runs contrary to the Anti-Money Laundering Act.”
“I agree with the prosecution that the $2 million and part of the N400 million received from the office of the NSA was used to acquire properties in Lagos,” he added.
According to Justice Abang, the transaction, as regards counts five and six was clearly in excess of the statutory threshold, whether the money belonged to the defendants or not, and Mr Metuh failed in his defence to disclose the source of the $2 million.
“I hereby find the first and second defendants guilty on counts five and six,” he held.
On count seven which bordered on the transfer of funds to a PDP official, Tony Anineh, the judge held that the transfer of N21.7 million to Anenih for a special national assignment directly represented the illicit nature of the fund.
“I have again considered the position of the prosecution and found that the prosecution proved the transfer of N27.7 million to Chief Anthony Anenih, and I hereby find the first and second defendants guilty on count seven and are hereby convicted,” the judge ruled.
Knocks, kudos as counsel set for appeal
While commending the trial which started in 2016, the prosecution counsel, Sylvanus Tahir said the judgement justified the prosecution stance and arguments since the beginning of the trial.
Tahir said: “If you follow the trust of our case, we filed the charge based on money laundering. It is the law that created the offence that criminalises money laundering and not our making. We are happy that judgment has been granted and we have been vindicated,”
On its part, Metuh’s counsel, Abel Ozokwu described the judgement as a good example of a bad judgement.
He told newsmen that Metuh was going to appeal the judgement.
He said: “We have our appeal right here with us and I still have confidence in the law court and we are heading upstairs to the three wise men.”