Alleged $6b Fraud : Court Adjourns Hearing in Agunloye’s Application to March 4

FCT High Court in Apo adjourned the preliminary objection filed by a former minister of power and steel, Olu Agunloye, until March 4.

The application is challenging the powers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to prosecute him regarding certain infractions at the $6 billion Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Station in Taraba.

Mr Agunloye, who served as a minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, is charged with seven counts of forgery, disobedience of presidential order and corruption.

He was alleged to have, among others, on May 22, 2003, awarded a contract titled “Construction of a 3,960-megawatt Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Station on a build, operate and transfer basis to Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Limited without any budgetary provision, approval or cash backing.

The prosecution also alleged that it traced some suspicious payments made by Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Limited to the former minister’s accounts.

The defendant, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge preferred against him.

Mr Onwuegbuzie had, on February 12, declined to hear the preliminary objection filed by counsel to the former minister, Adeola Adedipe SAN, on the ground that it was not ripe for hearing.

However, the hearing did not hold because the judge was attending a conference.

In the preliminary objection challenging EFCC’s powers to try the former minister, Mr Adedipe had sought an order of the court prohibiting the anti-graft agency from prosecuting or further prosecuting the instant charge against the defendant.

He argued that the commission lacked both investigative and prosecutorial powers under Sections 6, 7 and 46 of the EFCC Act, 2004.

He argued that the offence allegedly committed by Mr Agunloye was based on his (Agunloye’s) activities as a public officer.

He added that the former minister was alleged to have awarded the contract for the power plant without budgetary provision, approval or cash backing.

Mr Adedipe further argued that the defendant was accused of alleged disobedience to the directives of the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, as well as forgery of a letter dated May 22, 2003.

The senior advocate submitted that the allegations against the former minister did not constitute financial crimes and, as such, could not be investigated and prosecuted by the EFCC.

“These allegations do not constitute financial crimes that can be lawfully investigated and prosecuted by the EFCC, pursuant to its powers under Sections 6, 7, and 46 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, in consonance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Nwokobi vs. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2002), 6 NWLR (Part 1.1826) 293.”

He further argued: “Not having the mandatory statutory powers to investigate the allegations in the charge ab initio, I know that the purported investigation and current prosecution of this charge by the EFCC are ultra vires.”

He further submitted that it would be most unjust and unfair to subject the 76-year-old Agunloye to a criminal trial or prosecution before determining whether the prosecuting body has the requisite statutory powers to do so.

While urging the court to annualise the charge against Mr Agunloye, Mr Adedipe submitted that “it will be fair and just for this honourable court to first determine and render a decision on this threshold issue of the EFCC’s competence to investigate and prosecute this case.”

He then stated that it was in the interest of justice to grant the application.