The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has opposed an application by former minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke seeking to return to Nigeria to face trial.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Dele Bolgore, with whom she was charged, also urged the court not to grant the application.
The former minister, currently in London, the United Kingdom, where she is being investigated for money laundering, is praying the Federal High Court in Lagos to order the Federal Government to facilitate her return to Nigeria, to stand trial.
She said if she would not be made a defendant in the case, her name should be removed from the charge.
Mrs Alison-Madueke is asking for an opportunity to defend allegations against her in a charge filed against her, Belgore and a former minister of National Planning Prof Abubakar Suleiman.
The prosecution said Alison-Madueke allegedly shared $115,010,000 (about N35 billion) to different individuals, in 36 states, ahead of the 2015 general elections.
EFCC accused Belgore and Suleiman of directly receiving N450 million in cash from Alison-Madueke.
They pleaded not guilty.
The former minister was not listed as a defendant but was named in the charge as “being at large.”
Arguing the application before Justice Rilwan Aikawa Monday, her lawyer, Mr Onyechi Ikpeazu said his client was more or less a defendant in the case because there is a complaint against her.
He said it was in the interest of justice and fair hearing to allow her to defend herself in four of the counts.
“It is the fundamental right of the applicant that a criminal proceeding of this nature should not go on in her absence,” he said.
Ikpeazu added that if EFCC does not wish to try or give her an opportunity to defend herself by listing her as a defendant, then, the prosecution should expunge her name from the charge.
“We have no objection if her name is extracted from the charge and the case goes on,” he added.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria cited a case at the court’s Abuja Division, which involves the federal government and Olajide Omokore in which Mrs Alison-Madueke was mentioned in the charge but was also said to “be at large.”
He said when she brought a similar application to be listed a defendant, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba struck out the count in which she was named.
Ikpeazu urged Justice Aikawa to be persuaded by Justice Dimgba’s ruling.
But, opposing the application, the prosecuting counsel Mr Rotimi Oyedepo said it was a “violent abuse of court processes. The application is frivolous and is intended to annoy the parties,” he said.
Oyedepo argued that based on section 269 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the prosecution can only amend a charge by adding to the counts or reducing them, not adding a defendant.
He said if any amendment is allowed at this stage, two witnesses having been already called, the trial would start de novo (afresh).
To him, that would occasion a miscarriage of justice.
Besides, Oyedepo said Mrs Alison-Madueke was not even within the court’s jurisdiction having admitted in her application that she was in London. The EFCC lawyer said the former minister was given an opportunity before trial commenced to answer the charge, but, she allegedly escaped.
“Immediately she got to know about the investigation of this case, she absconded from Nigeria. Upon realising that she is in London, we made effort to meet her interview her there…”
“But she has always refused to meet with our team members. Her lawyer in London, one Mr John Beans, said the team would not be permitted to meet her because she’s outside jurisdiction,” Oyedepo said.
The lawyer said the application was, therefore, “misconceived and belated”.
According to him, apart from the prosecution who would suffer avoidable delay, the defendants would also be prejudiced.
Oyedepo said the trial should be allowed to go on without her, adding that whenever she returns to Nigeria, she would be charged.
“This application is intended to delay this case,” Oyedepo said.
Belgore’s lawyer Mr Ebun Shofunde (SAN) also opposed the application, saying Mrs Alison-Madueke was not a “necessary party” to the case.
“Without the applicant being a party, what the court will determine is the guilt or innocence of the first and second defendants.
“The court does not require the presence of the applicant to determine their guilt or innocence,” he said.
Sofunde added that it would be “unjust” for a trial that started in February to begin all over again when the applicant had no excuse for waiting so long.
“I urge the court to dismiss the application,” he said.
Replying on points of law, Ikpeazu said the fact that Alison-Madueke was just bringing the application was “secondary”.
He said there was nothing to show that she was aware of the charge, and insisted that “the applicant is a defendant because there’s a complaint against her.”
Justice Aikawa will decide the application on Wednesday. ‘‘‘