N3.7bn Case: EFCC Begs Court for Ex-NDDC Project Director’s Arrest

February 2, 2024
Tuoyo Omatsuli ex-NDDC Project Director

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is seeking the arrest of a former Executive Director on Projects for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr Tuoyo Omatsuli, to attend his trial over an alleged N3.6 billion fraud.

The anti-graft body asked the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to issue a warrant of arrest to compel Mr Omatsuli, who was facing the trial alongside his acquaintances, Mr Francis Momoh, Don Parker Properties Limited, and Building Associates Limited.

The respondents were initially standing trial on an alleged case of conspiracy and money laundering to the tune of N3.645 billion before retired Justice Saliu Saidu of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos.

“That you, Engr Tuoyo Omatsuli, Don Parker Properties Limited, Francis Momoh, and Building Associates Limited, between August 2014 and September 2015 at Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired to disguise the illegal origin of N3,645,000,000 being proceeds of unlawful activity to wit: corruption and gratification; and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 of the Money Laundering Act 2011 as amended by Act No 1 of 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act,” one of the counts read.

“That you, Engr Tuoyo Omatsuli, between August 2014 and September 2015 at Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did procure Francis Momoh and Building Associates Limited to use the total sum of N3,645,000,000 paid by Starline Consultancy Services into the Diamond Bank Plc Account No. 0023785116 operated by Building Associate Ltd, when you reasonably ought to have known that the said sum formed part of the proceeds of your unlawful activity to wit: Corruption and Gratification; and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 of the Money Laundering Act 2011 as amended by Act No 1 of 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act,” another count read.

They pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them.

The EFCC, after calling 16 prosecution witnesses, subsequently closed its case against the defendants. However, rather than open their defence, the defendants filed a no-case submission, which was heard on October 12, 2020.

In his ruling on November 11, 2020, Justice Saidu discharged the first defendant, Omatsuli, saying, “I have gone through the charge preferred against the defendants as well as the evidence of all the 16 prosecution witnesses and I found no reason for the first defendant to enter the defence.”

Consequently, the EFCC vowed to appeal the discharge of the former NDCC boss.

On April 13, 2022, a three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, upheld the appeal of the EFCC and dismissed the ruling of the trial court.

The judgment delivered by Justice Festus Obande Ogbuinya held that the ruling of the lower court dated November 11, 2020, discharging the respondent, Omatsuli, of the money laundering charges “is hereby set aside and he shall enter into his defence accordingly on the same counts.”

The Appellate Court, however, discharged Omatsuli on counts 27, 28, and 29 of the charge. In the course of the trial, Justice Saidu retired, and the matter was subsequently re-assigned to Justice Osiagor.

However, at the resumed sitting yesterday, Counsel to the 2nd defendant, Mr Norrison Quakers, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, informed the court that Mr Omatsuli was absent in court because he had an appeal pending before the Supreme Court.

“The first defendant is on appeal at the Supreme Court. A no-case submission filed by the 1st defendant before the Federal High Court was upheld and EFCC appealed the decision. This decision was, however, reversed at the Appellate court and the no-case submission was dismissed. The defendants were ordered to enter into their defence. Dissatisfied with the ruling of the Appeal Court, the 1st defendant appealed to the Supreme Court and the matter is yet to be determined”, he said.

He also told the court that the 1st defendant was not aware of the hearing because he was not represented by a counsel at the last proceedings.

Responding, prosecution counsel, Mr Ekele Iheanacho, said: “At the previous sitting, sometime in November 2023, the matter came up for arraignment, and a counsel appeared on behalf of the 1st defendant. The court then asked us to choose a date for arraignment. On that basis, I didn’t ask for a bench warrant against the defendant.”

He further told the court that “There is no stay of proceedings in the law, according to the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, ACJA. The pendency of the appeal does not prevent the proceedings at the Federal High Court from going on.” While referring to S352 of the ACJA, Iheanacho, therefore, applied for a bench warrant against Omatsuli.

Justice Daniel Osiagor disagreed with Iheanacho that the 1st defendant was aware of today’s hearing and, therefore, ordered that he be put on notice.

The case was adjourned to March 22, 2024, for re-arraignment and trial.

Adedapo Adesanya

Adedapo Adesanya is a journalist, polymath, and connoisseur of everything art. When he is not writing, he has his nose buried in one of the many books or articles he has bookmarked or simply listening to good music with a bottle of beer or wine. He supports the greatest club in the world, Manchester United F.C.

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