A Lagos Division of the Federal High Court Wednesday dismissed all the 40 counts bordering on alleged N34 billion fraud filed by the Federal Government against a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi and Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, a company linked to a former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo.
Tompolo and Akpobolokemi were charged alongside Kime Engozu; Rex Elem; Gregory Mbonu; and Capt. Warredi Enisuoh.
Three other firms – Odimiri Electrical Limited; Boloboere Property and Estate Limited; and Destre Consult Limited – were also defendants in the criminal case filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2015.
The ex-militant leader was initially joined as the first defendant in the suit, but his name was removed from the charge sheet after he ignored an order to appear in court, despite the judge issuing an arrest warrant on him.
In the ruling on Wednesday, Justice Ibrahim Buba upheld the defendants’ no-case submission, saying the prosecution “failed to establish a prima facie case” against them. He dismissed the entire charges and set them free.
In the charges, the EFCC had accused the defendants of conspiring among themselves to divert various sums running into over N34bn, belonging to NIMASA to their personal use.
The EFCC said they acted contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and were liable to punishment under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.
The first count of the amended 40 counts read, “That you, Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo), Patrick Akpobolokemi and Global West Vessel Specialist Limited in 2012, in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did conspire amongst yourselves to commit an offence, to wit: conversion of the sum of N601, 516.13 and $1,766,428.62, property of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, knowing that the said sums were proceeds of stealing and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.”
The defendants had, during their arraignment four years ago, all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In a separate matter, the court, however, convicted a former Executive Director of NIMASA, Captain Ezekiel Agaba, of N1.5 billion fraud and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment.
Justice Ibrahim Buba, who handed down the verdict on Wednesday, held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) proved the charges against Agaba beyond reasonable doubts.
The court, however, declined the application of EFCC counsel Rotimi Oyedepo for the forfeiture of property allegedly bought by Agaba from the proceeds of the money laundering but upheld the submission of the Agaba’s counsel Barrister E.D. Oyeneke that the property is the subject of another suit at the Federal High Court.
Oyeneke also in his plea for mercy prayed the court to order a non-custodial sentencing for Agaba, in view of his age being in the high risk category for COVID-19 infection in prison. But Justice Buba said, “In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, counsel should consider approaching the state for pardon for the convict.”
Agaba was arraigned before the court in 2015 alongside a former NIMASA Managing Director Dr. Patrick Akpolobokemi, a former NIMASA staff Ekene Nwakuche and the chairman of Ndokwa Local Government Area of Delta State, Juan Amechee Governor, for allegedly laundering the sum of N2.6 billion. They pleaded not guilty.
After the prosecutor closed his case, Akpobolokemi filed a no-case submission but the court, on October 16, 2017, dismissed his no-case submission. The verdict was overturned by the Court of Appeal in Lagos on June 1, 2016, which unanimously discharged and acquitted Akpobolokemi.
Following the appellate court’s decision, the anti-graft agency on October 10, 2019, withdrew the charges against Governor and Nwakuche, but maintained an amended charge against Agaba.
The anti-graft agency stated that between December 23, 2013 and March 13, 2014 in Lagos, Agaba converted the sum of N1.5 billion in tranches of N437,726,666.60; N66,800,000; N21,802,000; N402,480,000.00; N525,000,000; N70,000,000 and N176,000,000.
The funds were laundered through four companies namely Seabulk Offshore Operator Ltd, Ace Protehesis Limited, Extreme Vertex Nigeria Limited and Aroward Consulting Limited.