Three oil marketers- Mahmud Tukur, Alex Ochonogor and Abdullahi Alao on Wednesday lost their bid to quash the N1.5 billion fuel subsidy fraud charge preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC).
In his ruling, Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja dismissed the application filed by the defendants and their firms, Eterna Plc and Axe Energy Limited, for lacking in merit.
The defefants were charged to court by the EFCC on a nine-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretences, forgery and uttering.
The anti-graft agency claimed that they obtained the money from the Petroleum Support Fund for a purported importation of 80.3 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit.
Their counsel, Messrs Olaniran Obele, Ebun Adegoruwa and Aderemi Oguntoye, however argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the charge.
They maintained that the proof of evidence did not support the offences alleged against the defendants.
According to them, the criminal charge against their clients was an abuse of court process and should be struck out.
The defence lawyers further argued that the EFCC failed to obtain a valid fiat from the Attorney-General of Lagos State to empower them to prosecute the defendants before the state high court.
They said the issues in dispute related to fuel importation and revenue of the Federal Government hence the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the charge.
Responding, the EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the application because the issues raised had already being decided by the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division.
Jacobs said the appellate court in a ruling delivered on April 30,2015 in Walter Wagbatsoma Vs FGN, conferred jurisdiction of fuel subsidy cases on the state high courts.
He further argued that the EFCC could initiate criminal proceedings against anybody without obtaining fiat from the attorney-general of the state.
In his ruling, the judge held that he was bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal, adding that there was similarities between both cases.
He further held that the EFCC did not need any fiat to initiate the prosecution and that the charge was not an abuse of court process.
“In this result, I find no merit in the consolidated application and they are accordingly dismissed,” Lawal-Akapo said.
The judge consequently adjourned the matter till April 11,13,18, 19 and 20 for trial.tweet