Femi Fani-Kayode, former aviation minister and former media director of the President Goodluck Jonathan campaign organisation, praised and thanked and also feted friends and well-wishers to celebrate his acquittal by a federal high court over alleged money laundering charges against him after more than seven years the case lasted
| By Olu Ojewale | Jul 13, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
HIS first name is David. That, indeed, must have given Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of culture and later aviation the feeling that he had eventually overcame his Goliath on Wednesday, July 1. Having been on trial for seven years on alleged money laundering charge, a federal high court in Lagos, eventually discharged and acquitted Fani-Kayode, who had been facing a tow-count charge on money laundering. Apparently overwhelmed with emotion, the former minister changed his surname to Olukayode in appreciation, honour and respect to God.
Fani-Kayode, who read a prepared speech outside the courtroom shortly after Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia set him free, said his trial which started in 2008, “the whole process almost destroyed my life, my family, my reputation, my health and my career. I thank God for His goodness, His mercy and for the fact that today the whole nightmare has finally come to an end.”
Sounding pious and reflective, Fani-Kayode, who was also media director of the President Goodluck Jonathan 2015 presidential campaign organisation, said the Lord had proved himself in his life. He said further: “I wish to thank my family members, leaders of the Body of Christ, intercessors, pastors, political associates and friends who never doubted my innocence and who stood by me through thick and thin. I wish to thank my lawyers who worked so hard and so diligently over the last seven years throughout this case.”
He added: “As a mark of honour and respect for the Lord and as an everlasting testimony of my love for and dedication to Him, I wish to make it known to the Nigerian public that as from today my name will be changed. It will no longer be David Olufemi Fani-Kayode but instead, it shall be David Olufemi Olukayode.” He also expressed his gratitude to the nation’s judiciary for dispensing justice with the fear of God and for refusing to send him to jail.
The former minister later feted friends and well-wishers to sumptuous dinner at an undisclosed venue.
Ofili-Ajumogobia set Fani-Kayode free after reviewing the testimonies of the witnesses, and declared that from the totality of the evidence before her, it was clear that N2.1 million, for which the former minister was being tried was deposited in Fani-Kayode’s account, but the giver was unclear.
The judge said the testimony to that effect was totally unreliable, as it was not clear whether the monies were received without breaching the money laundering law.
“No offence is committed when the amount received is less than N500, 000. From the evidence before this court, the giver of the said monies is hazy and unproven,” the justice said.
The court similarly dismissed the alleged confessional statement of Fani-Kayode in relation to the N19.5 billion aviation intervention fund, saying there was nothing to support the claim.
The judgment was delivered exactly seven years after the politician was first arrested at the National Assembly complex in Abuja, on July 1, 2008.
That day, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had waylaid and arrested the former aviation minister at the premises of the Nigerian Senate after he appeared at the public hearing on the N19.5 billion aviation intervention fund.
Since then, it had been a ding-dong affair.
Indeed, it had been a bumpy journey all the way. The judgement was initially fixed for June 18, this year, but it had to be shifted when Festus Keayamo, leading counsel to the EFCC, did not show up in court that day. Keyamo sent a representative, but Ofili-Ajumogobia adjourned the case to July 1, saying she would await the appearance of the human rights lawyer.
The trial itself started in 2008 before Justice Ramat Mohammed of the federal high court, Lagos, when Fani-Kaoyde was arraigned by the EFCC for allegedly laundering about N100 million while he was minister of culture and tourism and subsequently, aviation minister. The case was later reassigned to Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako, following the transfer of Justice Mohammed outside Lagos division. The former minister was dully re-arraigned before Justice Murtala-Nyako, who was later transferred outside Lagos as well. The case was then transferred to Ofili-Ajumogobia.
Fani-Kayode had been facing a 40-count charge. But on November 17, 2014, the allegedly laundered sum was reduced to N2.1million after Ofili-Ajumogobia dismissed 38 of the 40-count charge levelled against him for want of evidence.
Keyamo, in his submission, urged the court to uphold the remaining two counts and convict Fani-Kayode, saying the former minister failed to exonerate himself of the allegations.
The prosecutor said the object of the charge was that Fani-Kayode transacted in cash sums more than N500,000, which was the threshold stipulated by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act. He argued that the former minister admitted making such transactions in his confessional statement of December 22, 2008, to the EFCC.
Keyamo said: “In this statement, he admitted that he transacted in cash above N500,000. My Lord, this statement went in without objection by the accused person and the statement was voluntary. With the combination of this confessional statement and the statement of the IPO that investigated the allegation, we rely on all of this to submit that we have discharged our burden that monies were received by the accused person in cash and were not done through any financial institution.”
He also argued: “Once you cannot explain the source of the large sum of money found on you, you are guilty of money laundering. If the prosecution must show where the money is coming from, then the whole essence of the money laundering law is defeated.
It is not in all cases that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution; the burden at this point shifts to the accused person.”
He also enjoined the court not to simply believe that the large sums in cash that Fani-Kayode allegedly transacted, were proceeds of his father’s estate, saying the accused should have called the tenant who paid the money as rent to testify in court and back it up with his statement of account.
Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, and counsel to Fani-Kayode, in his summary argument, insisted that Fani-Kayode made no confession to the EFCC, adding that the anti-graft agency had failed to show that the politician actually accepted a cash sum of N1million as alleged. Adedipe said the EFCC also failed to show to the court the person who handed the cash sum to the accused person. He said for the case of the prosecution to succeed, it had to be proven beyond reasonable doubts.
“My Lord, it is our submission that the accused does not have to prove his innocence; it is the prosecution that must prove its case beyond all reasonable doubts. In this particular case, the prosecution has failed to give the evidence of acceptance of N1million; in the entire trial none of the witnesses brought by the prosecution gave evidence of giving the accused cash,” the counsel said.
Irked by the judgement, Keyamo said he would ask for a copy of the judgement to enable him file an appeal. His position was concurred by Wilson Uwujaren, spokesman of the EFCC. A statement he issued in Abuja, said the commission was making effort to obtain a certified true copy of the judgment. He said: “The EFCC today (Wednesday) received with shock, the ruling of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the federal high court, Lagos, acquitting Fani-kayode. The commission is making effort to obtain a certified true copy of the ruling, to enable it to respond appropriately after careful review of the judgment.”
Darlinghton Ehondor of the Nigeria Institute of Journalism, Lagos, said he was not impressed by the former minister’s celebration. He asked rhetorically: What exactly is Fani-Kayode celebrating, to the point of changing his name, aggregating to an offhand disownment of familial identity? Is it the courtroom triumph itself or what it seemingly means to him, in terms of a miscarriage of justice that may have, essentially, helped him get away with financial murder? In Nigeria, where “justice” is routinely tainted ab initio by faulty, substandard and dreadfully incompetent – barbaric, almost medieval – police investigation “techniques,” including deliberate evidence tampering, legal victories like Fani-Kayode’s are a natural, normal way of life.” Ehondor said. However, he asked the former minister to stop using the name of God in vainglory.
Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and human rights activist, said he was not surprised by the judgement. “You cannot find any big man in our prisons today because of incessant adjournments. So, by the time the real trial starts some of the prosecution witnesses have lost interest or they cannot remember the case again,” he said.
On the way out, Ubani said that he used to be against having a special court to try corruption cases, but the way Nigerian politicians have been allowed to go enjoy their loots, he had seen wisdom in setting up such a court. “My learned friends can also help the institution by asking for a speedy trial in agreement with court and counsels to the accused,” he said.
In his own idea, Henry Balogun, a lawyer based in Lagos, said it was only in Nigeria that law enforcement agencies would first arrest a suspect before starting to look for evidence. Balogun said this often gave room for corruption. “In other clime, when police is investigating you it may be at it for years until it could find a water-tight evidence to nail you. Sadly, that is not done. How many cases have the EFCC got convictions in recent time? Some politicians have also got a perpetual injunction against their arrest. If the Buhari administration wants to win the war against corruption, he must work with the National Assembly and set up a special court for dispensation of justice on corrupt cases,” the lawyer said.