Alleged $6b fraud: Court declines ex-Minister Agunloye’s preliminary objection
Former Power and Steel Minister Olu Agunloye has questioned the legal authority of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to prosecute him over his alleged unlawful acts in the $6 billion Mambilla Hydroelectric Power project.
Agunloye, in a notice of preliminary objection filed before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Apo, prayed for an order prohibiting the EFCC from prosecuting or further prosecuting the seven-count charge on which he was arraigned on January 10.
In the objection he filed through his lawyer, Adeola Adedipe (SAN), the ex-minister noted that the offences listed in the charge related to his activities as a public officer when he was said to have awarded the contract without budgetary provision, approval and cash backing.
Agunloye also claimed that another offence alleged in the charge bordered on his purported disobedience to the directives of the President and forgery of a letter, dated: May 22, 2003.
He contended that the EFCC lacks investigative and prosecutorial powers on the offences alleged in the charge, under sections 6, 7, and 46 of the EFCC Act, 2004.
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Agunloye added: “These allegations do not constitute financial crimes, which can be lawfully investigated and prosecuted by the EFCC, pursuant to its powers under sections 6, 7, and 46 of the EFCC (Establishment) Act and in consonance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Nwobike v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2022) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1826) 293.
“Not having the mandatory/statutory powers to investigate the allegations against the defendant, ab initio, the purported investigation of the defendant and current prosecution of the charge by the EFCC is ultra vires its powers and thereby a nullity.”
“This is a threshold issue in which the court must first satisfy itself that there is requisite statutory powers for the EFCC to prosecute the charge and competent jurisdiction in the court to entertain same.”
The former minister also filed a separate application, seeking an order of the court to restrain the EFCC from inviting, intimidating or harassing his sureties.
He also prayed for an order to vary the conditions attached to the bail granted him on January 11, one of which required that his sureties must provide evidence of their ownership of a property worth N300 million.
In the application, he claimed that the EFCC had “repeatedly harassed, threatened, and invited his sureties for investigation,” an action he said was “actuated by bad faith, for the sureties to withdraw their suretyship and thereby create an uneven playing field in the prosecution of the case”.
At the resumed hearing in the case yesterday, Adedipe told the court about the fresh applications his client had filed.
The trial judge, Justice Jude Onwuegbuzie, held that they were not ripe for hearing.
Justice Onwuegbuzie adjourned till February 26 for the hearing of the applications.