Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday rejected the offer of N500,000 fine made by an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mr. Christian Nwosu, who was convicted of taking N30m bribe to compromise the 2015 general elections.
In a ruling on a plea bargain agreement between Nwosu and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday, Justice Idris held that the N500,000 fine agreed between Nwosu and the anti-graft agency was far too low compared to the punishment prescribed for money laundering.
According to the judge, Section 16(2)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, under which Nwosu was charged, prescribed a minimum of two years imprisonment or a fine of N10m for anyone convicted under the Act.
He said he could not, therefore, endorse the N500,000 fine agreed between Nwosu and the EFCC because the amount was at variance with the provision of the law.
Justice Idris held, “I have read carefully the plea bargain agreement and I have reviewed the content of same. By Section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, a plea bargain agreement is allowed as in this case, wherein the first defendant has provided relevant information to aid the prosecution of this case…it appears to me that by the above provisions of the ACJA, under a plea bargain agreement, the appropriate sentence to be recommended should be within the appropriate range of punishment stipulated for the offence charged.
“The first defendant was found guilty of an offence contrary to sections 1(a) and 16(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Amended Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.
“Section 16(2)(b) of the Act provides as follows: A person who commits an offence under subsection 1 paragraph (a) is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment or a prison term not less than two years or a fine of not less than N10m…The provisions of Section 16(2)(b) is clear and unambiguous…It is for the above reason that I find the proposal in paragraph 4 of the plea bargain agreement, filed on 5th April, 2017, inadequate.”
The judge said the convict was at liberty to rescind his decision on the plea bargain that he had entered because the court would have to impose a stricter punishment on him than the one agreed between him and the EFCC.
In response, the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, reminded the judge that the anti-graft agency had already recovered a parcel of land worth N25m which the convict acquired with the bribe, adding that Nwosu had also refunded the balance of N5m.
But the judge insisted that he could not go against the law, adding that if the prosecutor was sympathetic, the only option available was to amend the charge sheet and charge Nwosu under a section of the Act that prescribes a lesser punishment.
But Oyedepo said he had looked at the law and Section 16(2)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act prescribed the least punishment.
Reacting, counsel for the convict, Mrs. Adaku Mbana, said in view of the development, she needed time to converse with her client on what option he would choose.
“My Lord, I will most humbly request that you give us time because we are right now between the deep blue sea and the devil of N10m fine and two years imprisonment. Kindly give us time, I will like to speak with the first defendant. We request a date for that sir,” she said.
In view of the prayer, the judge adjourned the case till May 3, 2015.
The EFCC had on April 5 arraigned Nwosu alongside two other INEC officials, Yisa Adedoyin and Tijani Bashir, on the allegation that they took a bribe of N264.88m from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to compromise the 2015 elections.
Nwosu, who was a director/Administrative Secretary with INEC, was said to have received N30m out of the bribe which the EFCC said the defendants collected from Diezani on March 27, 2015.
The prosecution told the court that the offence was contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act 2012 and were liable to be punished under sections 15(3) and 16(2)(b) of the same Act.
But while his co-defendants pleaded not guilty, Nwosu pleaded guilty, with the prosecutor, Oyedepo telling the court that that he (Nwosu) had made restitution and had entered a plea bargain with the anti-graft agency.