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Nigeria: Court Discharges, Acquits Wife of Former PPMC MD, Five Others of Alleged Money Laundering Charges

Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday freed Mrs. Ochuko Momoh, wife of a former Managing Director of the Pipelines and Products Marketing

Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday freed Mrs. Ochuko Momoh, wife of a former Managing Director of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Mr. Haruna Momoh and five others in a money laundering related charges.

Justice Taiwo in a judgment delivered held that the prosecution failed to prove its allegations against the defendants.
The court accordingly discharged and acquit them from the charge.
The court in addition ordered that all her bank accounts as well as that of her companies frozen as a result of the case be immediately unfrozen, “upon service” of the judgment on the plaintiff and the affected banks.

The court also ordered the prosecution to immediately unseal all properties both immovable and movable belonging to Mrs. Momoh.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) had in 2020, arraigned the defendants on a 22-count criminal charge bordering on alleged money laundering running into billions of naira.

They pleaded not guilty to all the charges and were admitted to bail so as to prepare effectively for their defense.
Besides Mrs. Momoh, other defendants included Blessing Azuka-Agozi, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Energopol Nigeria Limited, Blaid Construction Limited and Blaid Farms Limited.
The prosecution had accused the defendants of laundering the sum of $700 million while Haruna Momoh held sway at the PPMC between 2011 and 2015.
They further alleged that Mr. Momoh through his wife’s firms laundered another sum of N249 million.

Before yesterday’s judgment, the prosecution led by Osuobeni Akponimisingha, called seven witnesses and tendered several documents to prove its case against the defendants.
However, delivering judgment in the suit yesterday, Justice Taiwo remarked that in a criminal case, it was the duty of the prosecution to prove the allegations of crime, adding that where there was a doubt, the court must resolve the issue in favour of the defendants.

According to the judge, the case of the prosecution was unreliable because it was built on mere speculation and conjecture.
Justice Taiwo stated that the prosecution failed to prove that the transaction leading to the deposits of the monies in the accounts of the 5th defendants were from illegal activities.
According to the judge, evidence before it showed that the N249 million was payment made to the 5th defendant for the contract it carried out for the PPMC.
In addition, the court held that the prosecution failed to prove that the 5th defendant was given undue advantage over other companies that bided for the contract, or was not qualified to be awarded the contract.

The judge stressed that the prosecution ought to have even check whether the contract was executed by the defendants in the first place before making allegations.
The judge noted that witnesses called by the prosecution stated that they did not have reason to suspect the monies from Mrs. Momoh because of the nature of her business (poultry), adding that all transactions were done in line with the guidelines of the Central Bank of Nigeria and other financial regulators.
Similarly, on the allegation that the second defendant refused to honour plaintiff’s invitation in respect of the suit, the court held that it is untenable in law for the prosecution to have made such invitation orally.

“The case of the prosecution is weak and unreliable”, the judge said.
“Consequently the prosecution haven failed to prove the allegations the defendants are hereby discharged and acquitted from all the 22 criminal count charge”, Justice Taiwo added.
Following request by Mr. Ade Adedeji, SAN, counsel to the 1st, 5th and 6th defendants, the judge ordered the immediate unfreezing of the accounts of Blaid Construction and Blaid Farms belonging to Mrs. Momoh.

The interim order of forfeiture was made by Justice Inyang Ekwo pending the determination of the criminal case.
Recall that Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court had in a judgment delivered on July 4, 2019, ordered the ICPC to vacate attachments placed on the assets of Mrs. Momoh and ordered them to also erase all inscription such as, “keep off, under investigation by ICPC.”

The judge held that, “where there is no prosecution for 12 months all seized property should be released to the owners.”
Speaking to journalists shortly after the judgment, Mrs. Momoh’s lawyer, commended the court for ensuring that justice was served at the end of the day.
“After four years, indeed more than that, justice has been served with what happened today.

“Our client has been discharged and acquitted on all the 22 count charge which were fabricated, which were not proved, which were conjectures.
“We thank the court, we thank the judiciary for their thoroughness, for their hard work, for their painstaking efforts to see that indeed justice was served,” he said.
Adedeji, however, urged the prosecution to always do their job diligently and ensure that they commence prosecution only when they have real facts and are convinced that they have a case against anyone.

Hon Justice Taiwo Taiwo observed that the court in July 2019, had earlier ruled through Hon Justice BFM Nyako that investigations by any government agency should not and cannot be in perpetuity. And the view of the court remains the same in this matter. Therefore, the matter should be put to rest at this point.

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