The federal high court, Lagos has refused the plea bargain arrangement between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Christian Nwosu, an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, who had pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering.
Justice Mohammed Idris held that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, provides for a heavier sentence for the crime to which the accused pleaded guilty.
The EFCC had arraigned former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, alongside three other INEC officials, including Nwosu, before the court on allegations of offering and receiving huge sums of money in bribes towards the 2015 general election.
Allison-Madueke was described in the charge as “still at large”, while the two other accused persons, Yisa Olarenwaju and Tijani Bashir, pleaded not guilty to the allegations.
After Nwosu pleaded guilty on the day of arraignment, the EFCC informed Justice Idris that the plea bargain agreement between the two parties, and the case was adjourned to April 27.
At the resumption of hearing on Thursday, the trial judge ruled that the penalty set out in paragraph 4 of the plea bargain agreement entered into by the accused with the EFCC, ran contrary to the provisions of Section 16 (2) (b) of the ACJA.
Nwosu and the EFCC had agreed that he will forfeit two landed properties in Delta, the sum of N5 million which was recovered from him, as well as pay a fine of N500,000.
The agreement also provides that within seven days after payment of the fine, the accused shall enter into a bond with the EFCC, never to be involved in economic and financial crimes within and outside Nigeria.
Justice Idris said: “It appears to me that from the provisions of the ACJA the appropriate sentence should be given for the offence charged; the first defendant was charged with offences contrary to Section 16 (1) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Amendment Act.
“Section 16(2) of the said Act provides that any person who commits an offence under subsection 1, is liable upon conviction, to an imprisonment term of not less than two years or fine in the sum of not less than N10 million or both.
“This provision is clear and unambiguous; it is for the above reason that I find the proposal in paragraph 4 of the plea bargain as inadequate; a sentence in my view is more appropriate given the circumstances of this case.
“The law also provides that the judge informs the accused of such sentence, to enable him to make a choice.”
After delivering the judgment, counsel to the first accused asked for an adjournment to enable him to discuss with his client.
Justice Idris granted the plea, adjourning the case till May 3 for continuation.
The EFCC had alleged that the three INEC officials had fraudulently taken possession of the sum of about N264 million from the former Petroleum Minister which they reasonably ought to have known were part of the proceeds of an unlawful act of gratification.