The Appeal Court said the Lagos Court lacked jurisdiction to try the matter.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos has freed Okey Nwosu, a former Managing Director of Finbank Plc, who was accused of N10.9 billion fraud, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Mr. Nwosu, alongside Dayo Famoroti, Danjuma Ocholi, and Agnes Ebubedike – all former directors of the bank – are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for a 26-count amended charge of stealing.
In a unanimous judgment delivered on November 21, the appellate court held that the Ikeja High Court, Lagos, where the charges were instituted against the defendants, had no jurisdiction over capital market-related issues, the basis of all the charges.
The appellate court, comprising of three judges, also held that the facts of the matter in the charges preferred against Mr. Nwosu and his co-defendants did not support the prosecution’s charges of stealing.
“The ruling of the High Court of Lagos State, (Ikeja Judicial Division (Criminal Law Division) delivered. By Justice L.A Okunnu in Charge ID/115c/2011 on May 24, 2011 is hereby set aside by this court,” Justice Sidi Baga stated in his lead judgment.
“Consequently, all the charges filed before that court with respect to the appellant (Nwosu) are hereby struck out,” he added.
The Court of Appeal said its judgment was only valid for Mr. Nwosu, since it was he who approached it after the Ikeja High Court quashed their efforts to acquit themselves of the charges.
It means that only his co-defendants would appear before Justice Lateefat Okunnu on the high court’s next of December 16.
While dismissing the no-case submission filed by the accused, the Lower Court had held that there was a nexus between the defendants and the theft charge.
Justice Okunnu said the prosecution had alleged that the four defendants granted loans worth N20 billion without the approval or knowledge of Finbank’s board of directors.
She also noted that the prosecution had alleged that the loans were disbursed to seven companies through a subsidiary of the bank – Springboard Investment Ltd – to purchase the bank’s shares.
“I am of the objective view that all these evidence ‘suggest’ a link of all the defendants to the charge of stealing,” Justice Okunnu had said.
“There is enough evidence to make it expedient for them to give answers and explanations regarding their conducts, vis-a-vis the said transactions,” the judge had added.
But in last week’s decision of the appellate court, Justice Baga held that the facts of the case filed before the lower court did not support the stealing allegations.
“What is therefore in existence is the fraudulent conversion of fund of the bank as instituted, into shares.
“If the funds in question have turned into shares, which is an issue in the capital market, can the High Court of Lagos State therefore invoke its jurisdiction on such matter on a charge of stealing,” Justice Baga said.
Chinwe Iyizoba, a member of the panel, aligned with the lead judge, in her decision.
“The situation here is different. The facts of the transactions do not in fact support the charge of stealing preferred against the appellant in the High Court of Lagos State,” Justice Iyizoba said.
The Court of Appeal, however, declined from taking a decision on whether the EFCC and the Attorney-General of the Federation had a valid fiat of the Lagos State Attorney-General to prosecute criminal of offences in the state High Court.
The court held that since it had pronounced that the Lower Court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the matter, it would amount to an academic exercise to take a decision on the issue of fiat.
Source: Premium Times