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Why court absolved three AIICO staff members of N1.5 billion fraud charges

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On September 19, An Ikeja Special Offences Court in Lagos discharged and acquitted three staff members of AIICO Capital Limited, of the N1.5 billion fraud charges brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo in her ruling absolved Onome Odometa, Olajumoke Akano, and Olabode Ogunlere of the 22-count charges proffered against them.

The judge held that the prosecution failed to prove the alleged offense against the defendants. consequently, she said suspicion no matter how grave is not evidence and cannot be the basis for the conviction of any person in law.

Backstory

The defendants were accused by the EFCC of conniving with Lanre Fabunmi, a former Managing Director of the firm to convert the said money under the guise of payment of sales commission.

They were arraigned in August 2021 on a 22-count amended charge bordering on conspiracy, stealing, and dishonest conversion of funds for the purpose of purchasing properties, and converting funds belonging to the firm.

According to EFCC, The offences were punishable under section 287(8), 332(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015.

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Upon arraignment, they pleaded not guilty to the charges and were subsequently granted bail in the sum of N50 million each with two sureties in like sum.

On November 22, the EFCC opened the prosecution’s case and closed it with eight witnesses urging the court to ask the defendants to enter defence.

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After the EFCC had closed its case, the defendants subsequently filed a no-case submission before the court.

They contended that the accusations by the prosecution did not link them to the alleged crimes.

According to them, none of the witnesses called by the prosecution testified of a rule prohibiting payment of sales commission to staff.

Consequently, they prayed the court to dismiss the charges against them saying they had no case to answer.

How the court ruled

Ruling on the no-case submission filed by the defendants the judge said “The myriad of evidence to prove the payment of sales commission also reveals that the defendants in any capacity did not approve the payments to themselves.

“In fact, according to PW2, before any payment is made, it must go through internal control, client services, and then the Managing Director approves.

She noted that “None of the defendants have been shown to be part of Internal Control or hatching a plan to steal from the company with erstwhile Managing Director.

Simply believing the evidence of the prosecution that they got huge sums as sales commission means they connived with the erstwhile Managing Director would be speculation on the part of the court.

“A lack of concrete evidence creates doubt in the mind of the court and the court does not act on speculations, let alone conjectures that are ambiguously speculative.

“Suspicion no matter how grave is not evidence and cannot be the basis for conviction of any person in law.“

The suspicion remains suspicion and cannot graduate to convincing evidence no matter how grave the suspicion can be.

In the final analysis, the case of the prosecution is riddled with speculations, half-truths, and insufficient evidence to support the amended information.

“The case of the prosecution was thoroughly whittled down under cross-examination and the remnants of the evidence have not established a case against the defendants warranting the need for them to enter their evidence.

“Consequently, having failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants, the no-case submission made by the defendants is hereby upheld.

The defendants are hereby discharged and acquitted,” Justice Taiwo ruled.

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