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 for money laundering charges involving $2m which he was said to have transacted with 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 Metuh 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, when 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 did not deserve to be granted as no tangible explanation was offered for the absence of the defence team from court on May 25, but he only decided to grant it in the overall interest of 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 1st defendant (Metuh) will take advantage of the humane disposition of the court and offer an explanation in his defence.
“The 1st 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 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.
The judge said, “The 1st defendant should respect himself. The 1st defendant shall not create further scenes in court. The 1st defendant shall not plan to fall in the court.
“The 1st defendant shall not take any step to frustrate the proceedings.”
The judge reiterated that he had nothing against the defendant.
In a separate ruling on Tuesday, the judge ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to arraign three anchors of Sunrise Daily of Channels Television for the comments made on the programme by a lawyer, Mr. Ben Nwosu, in respect of the trial on May 22, 2018.
While he referred the lawyer, who is also part of Metuh’s defence team, to the Nigerian Bar Association for onward forwarding to the association’s disciplinary committee, the judge ordered the AGF to arraign the three anchor persons before any court of coordinate jurisdiction “other than this court.”
In line with the previous order of the court, the video clip of the programme was played in the open court before the judge made the orders for the trial of the anchorpersons and the referral of Nwosu to the NBA.
The judge ordered the AGF to arraign the three anchor persons – Messrs Chamberlain Usoh, Gimbar Umar and Nneotaobase Egbe – in court under Section 133(4) of the Criminal Code.
Justice Abang noted that the court in which the three would be arraigned would determine whether the questions asked by the anchorpersons and the answers given by Nwosu were not contemptuous or prejudicial to the proceedings.
“It will be determined whether it did not paint the court in a bad light and meant to blackmail the court among members of the public who may not have access to or may not even have interest in the facts before the court,” he ruled.
He said he could not make any order against a lawyer with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Johnson Ojogbane, who only made contributions during the event through a telephone call.
The judge said it would be speculative to make any order against Ojogbane when his picture did not appear during the programme.
To prepare the stage for the trial, the judge ordered the General Manager of Channels Television in Abuja to make available to the court within seven days 10 copies of the transcripts of the words spoken by Nwosu, and the three anchormen and 10 copies of the Video Compact Disc of the clip.
He directed that the defence and prosecution lawyers should create time to compare the transcript with the video footage to ascertain the correctness of the transcript.
He also directed the prosecution, the EFCC, which represents the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to, after receiving the verified transcript, refer Nwosu to the NBA.
He ordered that within 10 days of filing complaints against Nwosu at the NBA, the prosecution should send copies of the transcript and VCD to the AGF.
He adjourned the case till Wednesday.