The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, convicted and sentenced the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina, to eight years in prison for money laundering.
The court, in the judgement that was delivered by Justice Okon Abang, found Maina guilty on all the 12-count charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him and his company, Common Input Property and Investment Limited.
It held that the anti-graft agency successfully established the essential ingredients of offences contained in the charge, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Justice Abang held that the sentence would run concurrently, with effect from October 25, 2019, which was the day the Defendants were arraigned.
He ordered Maina and his firm to forfeit about N2.1billion that was traced to their bank accounts, as well as another sum of $223, 396, 30, to the Federal Government, after which he directed that the company should be wound up.
The court held that the forfeited funds should be paid to FG within 90 days.
Besides, it ordered the forfeiture of Maina’s two choice properties at Life camp and Jabi districts of Abuja, to the government, likewise the auction of a bulletproof car and a BMW 5 Series exotic car that was found in premises of the convict.
Justice Abang stressed that though the law made provision for a maximum sentence of 14 years for the offence that was committed by the Defendants, he said he was moved by Maina’s plea for mercy.
Meanwhile, drama ensued shortly after the judgement, as plain-clothed officials of the EFCC, attempted to re-arrest the convicted former pension boss within the court premises.
The EFCC agents had immediately officials of the Nigerian Correctional Service, NCS, who were leading Maina out of the court, used both a Hilux and a White Hiace Bus, to block the vehicle that was meant to convey the convict to prison.
Their move to grab Maina was vehemently resisted by armed officials of the NCS.
After the clash that lasted over 30mins, the EFCC operatives backed out and allowed Maina to be taken away by officials from Kuje Correctional Center.
Though there is another criminal case pending against Maina before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, it was however not clear why the EFCC wanted to take him into its custody.
Meantime, earlier in his judgement, Justice Abang held that EFCC successfully discharged the evidential burden that was placed on it by the law, noting that the Defendants failed to offer any concrete defence to the charge.
He held that the EFCC adduced sufficient evidence that was “unchallenged”.
Justice Abang said there was uncontroverted evidence that Maina had at a period that pension funds were stolen, paid in over N1.5million, N500m and N300m, into five bank accounts that were traced to him.
He said there was no explanation from the 1st Defendant about where the money, which was above his legitimate earnings, came from.
The trial judge held that Defendant, whose monthly salary was about N250, 000, could not have been able to save over an N2billion, within the 30 days period that the deposits were made.
“Judgement is hereby entered in favour of the Prosecution and the Defendant is accordingly convicted”, he held.
At this juncture, Maina’s lawyer, Mr Olusegun Jolawon, SAN, begged the court for leniency.
“I beg my lord to give the Defendant a second chance by not bringing down the full weight of the law. Defendant obviously made some mistakes and he is very remorseful about them. He is the breadwinner of both his nuclear and extended family.
“Moreover, there is documentary evidence that he is seriously sick. Nobody is immune to illness”, the defence lawyer added.
Likewise, Maina while addressing the court by himself, apologized for his past conduct.
He said: “My lord, I want to apologise for anything I may have done, with or without my intention. It was all adduced to me.
“I was never opportune to be in the witness box, if not, you would have heard a lot of things”, Maina stated, saying he has three different tumours in his body and would need to undergo a medical operation urgently.
After he had listened to the Allocutus (plea for mercy) by both Maina and his lawyer, Justice Abang said the facts of the case was “sordid, immoral and dirty”.
“Facts of this case portray the moral decadence of the society we live in. Having considered the monumental fraud, about how pensioners’ funds were stolen.
“It is a clear case that the convict is inhuman, heartless and had no compassion for the pensioners. Some of them have suffered, others have died while waiting to get their reward on earth.
“Whereas the convict was feeding fat from their sweat in faraway Dubai, buying properties, driving bulletproof cars that were beyond his legitimate earnings.
“Abnormal situation requires drastic action to send a message to those that believe in dishonesty, to have a rethink”, he added.
The court maintained that FG ought to have withdrawn the operating licenses of the two banks it noted connived with the convict to steal pension funds to the tune of over an N2.1billion.
EFCC had in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/256/2019, alleged that Maina used a bank account that was operated by his firm and laundered funds, part of which he used to acquire landed properties in Abuja.
It told the court that the 1st Defendant (Maina) used fictitious names to open and operate various bank accounts, as well as recruited his relatives that were bankers to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channelled.
The EFCC alleged that Maina induced staff of both the United Bank of Africa, UBA, and Fidelity Bank Plc, to open accounts for him, without conducting the requisite due diligence to verify the identity of the beneficial owner.
The Prosecution maintained that Maina and his company, committed criminal offences, punishable under sections 11(2) (a), 15(3), and 16(2) (c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, and also acted in breach of the Advance Fee Fraud Act.
Maina had midway into his trial, jumped bail and escaped from the country.
Though the court okayed his trial in absentia and issued a warrant of arrest against him, Maina, was subsequently re-arrested in the Niger Republic and returned back to the country on December 4, 2020.
EFCC closed its case against the Defendants after it called a total of nine witnesses.
In his defence, Maina, called a sole witness, even as the court, in a ruling on July 16, closed his defence after he failed to produce his second witness.
Subsequent application by the Defendants, to be allowed to re-open their defence, was rejected by the court which described it as an abuse of the judicial process.
The Defendants had applied for the court to compel 10 persons, among whom included the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, the erstwhile Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr Godwin Emiefele, to appear as his witnesses.
Others he also prayed the court to compel to appear and testify in the matter, was a human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, M. Mustapha, Hassan Salihu, Mohammed Wakil, G.T Idris, Kenneth Amabem, Ibrahim Kaigama and the Director of Compliance at the CBN.
Maina insisted that evidence of the subpoenaed witnesses would be crucial to his defence of the charge.
The court had after he jumped bail, remanded his surety, Senator Ali Ndume, in prison custody.
It ordered Ndume who is representing Borno South Senatorial District, to either produce Defendant for the continuation of his trial or to forfeit his N500m bail bond.
Alternatively, it directed the sale of Ndume’s property situated at Asokoro in Abuja to raise the N500m it said should be paid into the Federation Account.
After he regained his freedom on November 27, 2020, following Maina’s re-arrest, Ndume, applied to withdraw from the case, a request that was rejected by the court.
It will be recalled that Justice Abang had in a judgement he delivered on October 7, also convicted and sentenced Maina’s son, Faisal, to 14 years imprisonment for money laundering.