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Patience Jonathan’s $15.5m: Companies Pleaded Guilty In Error’

Four firms, which pleaded guilty to laundering $15.591 million allegedly belonging to wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, have told the Court of Appeal in Lagos they did so in error.
Mrs. Jonathan is praying the court to order the EFCC to defreeze the accounts to enable her access the money.
The companies last September pleaded guilty to laundering the money when they were arraigned before Justice Babs Kuewumi.
The companies were arraigned with a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to President Jonathan, Waripamo Dudafa, a lawyer Amajuoyi Briggs and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku.
They are: Pluto Property and Investment Company Ltd, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Ltd, Transocean Property &Investment Company Ltd and Avalon Global Property Development Company.
Briggs, who said he is the companies’ secretary, has appealed against their conviction.
In a supporting affidavit to a motion filed at the Court of Appeal, a lawyer, Chimaobi Onuigbo from Mike Ozekhome Chambers, said the companies were not represented by a lawyer in court when they pleaded guilty.
The appellant, through Ozekhome, is praying the appellate court for leave to file and serve a notice of intention to challenge Justice Kuewumi’s ruling convicting the companies.
He said: “At the time the ruling of the lower court was entered, the fourth to seventh respondents were not represented by counsel.
“Consequently, they erroneously pleaded guilty to the charges read to persons, who represented themselves to the court as directors of the fourth to seventh respondents/applicants.
“The appeal is challenging the plea of ‘guilty’ entered in favour of the appellants, which he believes will occasion a miscarriage of justice if not reversed.
“The fourth to seventh respondents/applicant are desirous of contending that the decision of the court below be varied in this appeal,” the appellant said.
The deponent said the companies had just briefed the Mike Ozekhome Chambers to handle the appeal on their behalf.
Onuigbo said the time provided by the Court of Appeal Rules for the filing of notice of intention to contest the decision of the court below under Order 9, Rule 1 of the Appeal Rules 2016 had lapsed, hence the need to obtain the court’s leave.
“The leave for this Honourable Court is required for the filling and service out of time of this notice of intention to contend that the decision of the court below be varied, the period provided by the rules of this court having expired.
“It is in the interest of justice to grant this application,” the deponent said.
The companies also prayed the court for leave to cross-appeal the ruling in which they were convicted after pleading guilty.
According to them, the guilty plea entered by the individuals “will occasion a grave miscarriage of justice if not reversed” and would amount to “a breach of their fundamental right to fair hearing”.
The deponent said: “The cross-appellants/applicants are desirous of cross appealing in this appeal to be able to canvass their position for a fair hearing and just determination of this appeal.
“The cross appellants have only just briefed the law firm of Mike Ozekhome’s Chambers to handle this cross-appeal on their behalf.”
The companies were represented by Friday Davis, Agbor Baro, Dioghowori Frederick and Taiwo Ebenezer when they pleaded guilty.
EFCC said the accused persons conspired on November 13, 2013 in Lagos to launder $15,591,700.
It said the defendants “reasonably ought to have known that the funds form part of the proceeds of an unlawful act”.
The alleged offence, EFCC said, was contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3).
Mrs. Jonathan had sued EFCC and Skye Bank for the freezing of her accounts, demanding N200 million in damages.
She said the funds in the accounts of the companies, which pleaded guilty, were hers.
An aide, Sammie Somiari, who deposed to an affidavit on behalf of the former First Lady, claimed he helped Mrs. Jonathan open the accounts.
He said Dudafa, on March 22, 2010, brought two Skye Bank officers, Bolodeoku and Dipo Oshodi, to meet Mrs. Jonathan at home, following which she authorised the accounts’ opening and was the sole signatory.
He, however, added that after the five accounts were opened, Mrs. Jonathan discovered Dudafa opened only one of the accounts in her name. The other four were opened in the names of Dudafa’s companies.
According to Somiari, Mrs. Jonathan had been operating the accounts after Oshodi promised to change the accounts’ names to hers.
“Since 2010 up until 2014 and thereafter, the applicant (Mrs. Jonathan) had been using the cards on the said accounts and operating the said accounts without let or hindrance,” he said.
Before the arraignment, defence counsel had objected to the charge on the basis that the individuals who claimed to represent the companies did not exhibit any authorisation letters.
“EFCC could have picked them on the street. There has to be a letter in writing from the companies in line with Section 477 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act,” Dudafa’s lawyer Gbenga Oyewole said.
In another development, the former First Lady, Patience Jonathan on Monday May 8, 2017 visited he Maitama branch of the Skye Bank in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, less than one week after her 6 million dollars was recently unfrozen by a court order.
Patience Jonathan was at the bank until 4pm but declined to speak to reporters who approached her.
Mrs. Jonathan was said to have had a brief meeting with the Executive Director of Skye Bank.
.Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, last Thuraday, ordered that her domiciliary account of be unfrozen because she was not a party to the initial case that led to the freezing of the account.
The account had hitherto been frozen by the same court following an affidavit in support of Ex-parte originating summons sworn to by an EFCC operative, Abdulahi Tukur, and filed before the court by EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo.
However, the court reversed the initial freezing order sequel to an application argued by her (Patience’s) legal team which is led by Adedayo Adedipe (SAN).
Adedipe urged the court to unfreeze the account on the ground that Patience Jonathan was not a party in the suit leading to the order made by the court.
Adedipe while citing judicial authorities contended that the order was an abuse of court process as the court has no jurisdiction to make an order against a party that is not a party in a suit filed before the court.
The EFCC did not file any response to the application filed by Adedipe seeking to discharge the order.
Based on the submission which the court admitted and upheld, Justice Olatoregun discharged the initial order freezing the account.

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