A former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosu, and 10 others being tried for an alleged fraud of N22.8bn have indicated their intentions to enter into plea bargain with the Federal Government.
Standing trial with Amosu are two other officers of the Airforce – Air Vice Marshal Jacob Adigun and Air Commodore Gbadebo Olugbenga.
The three are being tried alongside eight companies, namely: Delfina Oil and Gas Limited, Mcallan Oil and Gas Limited, Hebron Housing and Properties Company Limited, Trapezites BDC, and Fonds and Pricey Limited.
Others are Deegee Oil and Gas Limited, Timsegg Investment Limited and Solomon Health Care Limited.
The defendants were arraigned on June 29, 2016 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on 26 counts before Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
The charges against them bordered on conspiracy, stealing, money laundering, concealing of proceeds of crime and conversion of funds belonging to the Nigerian Airforce to personal use.
But the defendants had pleaded not guilty to the charges following which the judge admitted Amosu, Adigun and Olugbenga to a bail of N500m each with two sureties in like sum.
The judge ordered them to deposit their passports in the custody of the court pending trial.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Friday, the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, however, informed the court that the defendants had commenced a move to enter into a plea bargain with the Federal Government.
He tendered a draft copy of the terms of the plea bargain to the court, which he said he had served on the defendants.
But the defence counsel, comprising Mr. Norrison Quakers (SAN), Mr. Kemi Balogun (SAN), Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) and Mr. A. Etuokwu, informed the court that the business of the day was for report of compliance with the order of the court regarding the verification of the defendants’ bail conditions.
Quakers argued that though the defendants were the ones who broached the idea of a plea bargain, they needed to be out of the EFCC custody first before they would be able to negotiate properly with the prosecution.
“When a man is in a custodian environment, anything you want him to say, he’d say; anything you want him to do, he’d do. We should not be stampeded or boxed into a corner,” Quakers said.
Noting that the draft copy of the plea bargain had just been served on the defence counsel on Friday morning, Quakers argued that defendants were entitled under Section 36(6)(b) of the 1999 Constitution to be given adequate time and facility to prepare their defence.
Ayorinde and Etuokwu pursued same line of argument and insisted that the order of the court on the bail of the defendants must first be complied with.
But opposing them, Oyedepo insisted that the business of the day was for the trial to commence, noting that he had a witness ready in court.
He said it was not the making of the EFCC that the defendants were still in custody and that the anti-graft agency did not oppose their applications for bail.
He said that the EFCC investigators sacrificed their holiday period to verify compliance with the bail conditions.
He also insisted that the defence counsel already had knowledge of the plea bargain terms and should proceed with it as he was ready to open trial.
After long arguments between the parties, Justice Idris, in a short ruling, ordered the EFCC to conclude the verification of the defendants’ bail conditions on or before Monday, July 11, 2016.
The judge said he had noted from the draft plea bargain that negotiation was already ongoing between the state and the defendants and that the defendants had shown a “clear, positive and strong intention” to settle with the government.
He adjourned till September 12 and 13, 2016 for trial.
Among other things, the EFCC alleged in the charge against the defendants that they conspired among themselves on March 5, 2014 to convert N21.5bn belonging to the Nigerian Airforce to their personal use.
This act, Oyedepo said, was a violation of Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012, for which the defendants were liable to be punished under Section 15(3) of the same Act
In another count, the defendants were accused of indirectly converting a sum of N3.6bn belonging to the Nigerian Airforce to their own.
In another instance, the EFCC alleged that Amosun and the others stole N323,319,283.81 from the accounts of the Nigerian Airforce between the March 21, 2014 and March 12, 2015 to purchase for themselves a property situated at No.1, River Street, Wuse II Abuja.