EFCC: Court Convicts Man of Fraud in Absentia, Orders Arrest of Sureties

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Justice Olusola Williams of the Special Offences Court, sitting in Ikeja, Lagos, on Friday, July 26, 2019, convicted a businessman, Barnabas Johnson Akojie in absentia for offences bordering on forgery, stealing, obtaining by false pretence and fraudulent conversion to the tune of $149,950.

Akojie was convicted alongside his companies, Hanson Oil and Gas Limited and Hanston Oil and Gas Limited, having been arraigned on an eight-count charge by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on October 9, 2018.

 One of the charges reads: “That you, Barnabas Johnson Akojie and Hanston Oil & Gas Limited, on or about the 29th day of November, 2017 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, with intent to defraud, obtained the sum of $69, 975. 00 (Sixty-nine Thousand, Nine Hundred and Seventy-five United States Dollars) from Etienne Irazoqui by falsely representing to him that the money was for logistics fee for a contract of supply of crude oil under ‘off-OPEC’ basis from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a representation you knew to be false and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(1) and 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, No. 14 of 2006.”

The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them, giving way to their trial.

In the course of the trial, the prosecution presented six witnesses, while the defence presented three.

Though both parties subsequently closed their cases, but Justice Williams could not deliver judgment on the matter at the last adjourned on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, owing to the absence of the defendants in court.

Akojie, who is the first defendant, according to his counsel, was sick and admitted in hospital, prompting Justice Williams to issue a bench warrant on him, ordering that he be produced that same day at 3.00pm for the judgment to be read to him.

However, efforts by EFCC operatives to fetch him were unsuccessful, as he could not be found at his known home address or at the hospital he claimed to have been admitted in.

Justice Williams, therefore, adjourned the case to Friday, July 26, 2019 (being today) for both the prosecution and defence to address the court, regarding whether the judgment should be delivered by another judge or be delivered by him in the absence of the defendants.

The prosecution counsel, E.S. Okongwu, while alerting the court that Akojie might have been on the run, stated that it was within the powers of courts to deliver judgments in the absence of defendants. He, therefore, urged the court to deliver judgment and convict the defendants as charged.

“It is a clear calculated plot by Akojie to delay justice, and it is tantamount to the case starting de novo,” Okongwu added.

In his reaction, the defence counsel, Clement Aba, informed the court that he relayed all that happened at the last adjourned date to his client on the phone, adding that he promised to be in court today.

“My Lord, my client does not intend to delay the course of justice. He does not want the matter to start de novo either. He was, indeed, sick. My client cannot run away from this judgment because the EFCC will surely look for him and bring him to book; so, he will definitely come to court when he is back on his feet,” Aba stated.

Justice Williams, after listening to both parties, ruled that the judgment will be read while sentencing will be delivered by another judge.

She ruled that “the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubts and the defendants are guilty of the charges preferred against them by the EFCC.”

She also revoked the bail granted to Akojie and ordered that his sureties be arrested and brought before the court to explain why he was absent in court.

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