The Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday ordered the re-opening of the defence of a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh, in respect of the money laundering case against him.
Metuh and his company, Destra Investment Limited, are being prosecuted on money laundering charges involving $2m, which he was said to have transacted without passing through a financial institution; and another sum of N400m which he allegedly received fraudulently from the Office of the National Security Adviser in 2014.
Justice Okon Abang had closed Metuh’s defence on May 25, 2018, following the absence of the defendant and his lawyers from court without any explanation during the day’s proceedings.
The judge noted on Tuesday that the proceedings were adjourned on May 23 till May 24 at the instance of Metuh’s lawyer, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), but failed to show up for the adjourned proceedings.
The lawyer or any of the other lawyers in the team also did not show up on May 25, being the date the case was postponed to, prompting the prosecution to apply to the court to close Metuh’s defence shortly after the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, cross-examined the defendant’s last witness.
The judge had, on Monday, heard an application filed by Metuh’s leading defence counsel, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), pleading with the court to enable Metuh to testify in the case and call two additional witnesses.
But ruling on the application on Tuesday, Justice Abang held that the application was not deserving to be granted, as no tangible explanation was offered for the absence of the defence team in court on May 25, but only decided to grant it in the overall interest to do substantial justice.
He said ordinarily, it would have amounted to usurping the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to reopen the closed case, but for the fact that it was an order “made in default” as the lawyer to the other side was absent.
After “bending backwards” to grant the application, the judge said, “This is a criminal trial. It will be in the interest of everybody that the matter is heard on the merit.
“I do hope that the first defendant (Metuh) will take advantage of the humane disposition of the court and offer explanation in his defence.
“The first defendant should not judge himself and deny himself of hearing to enable him to give evidence in defence of himself and to enable the court to resolve this matter on the merit.
“The order of this court closing the case of the 1st defendant on May 25, 2018 is hereby set aside and as a result vacated.”
But the judge insisted that the proceedings of the said day apart from the order closing Metuh’s defence remained.
The judge also warned Metuh to defend himself and “not to further embarrass the court by creating scenes in court.”