A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday discharged former Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, of the N2.9 billion fraud charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Delivering the ruling, Justice Ekwo, struck out the charges for contravening section 105 (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, which gives the Attorney-General of the Federation the power to recall a case.
The ruling was based on a preliminary application filed by Mr. Okorocha.
EFCC must comply with the AGF’s directive
Mr. Ekwo said the directive of the AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, in a letter dated 12 September 2022, to the EFCC to forward the case file with its comments on the issues for consideration and review, was binding on the commission.
- He said, “All that the law required of the respondent (EFCC) was for the respondent when directed by the HAGF (Honourable Attorney General of the Federation), pursuant to any enactment, is to comply and not act as if it is not under the law or is exempted thereby.
- “For the avoidance of doubt, the office of the HAGF is founded on the provisions of the constitution and is thereby preserved.
- “The controversies and drama surrounding this trial proceeding are needless and it is time to stop it.’’
The judge further held that from the moment the AGF gave the directive to the EFCC, the commission ceased to have the legal authority to prosecute or continue the prosecution of the case.
- The judge added, “In other words, the intervention of the HAGF in any criminal proceedings ends the authority of the prosecuting agency in the matter unless otherwise directed by the HAGF.
- “In the end, I find that non-compliance by the respondent with the directive of the HAGF as stated in Exhibit Okorocha 7 is fatal to this proceeding and has rendered it a nullity.
- “The respondent is not empowered by any law to continue with this proceeding after the HAGF issued the directive in Exhibit Okorocha 7.
- “With Exhibit Okorocha 7, it is only the HAGF that can decide whether or not to charge the defendants upon the case file being remitted to his office as directed.’’
For the record
- Okorocha, who is also a sitting senator, has been having a running battle with the EFCC for some time now, which climaxed with the invasion of his Abuja residence in May 2022, by operatives of the commission.
- Recall that on January 31, 2022, the EFCC first filed 17-count criminal charges against Rochas Okorocha and others at a federal high court in Abuja over an alleged conspiracy to steal N2.9 billion in public funds.
- He was accused of conspiring with others, including a member of APC and 5 companies to steal from public coffers, an allegation the former governor denied.
- Mr. Okorocha was later arraigned in May 2022, alongside 6 others including a chieftain of APC, Anyim Chinenye, and 5 companies – Naphtali International Limited, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Limited, Consolid Projects Consulting Limited, Pramif International Limited, and Legend World Concepts Limited.
- Okorocha described the suit as being “unlawful, baseless, oppressive, and a gross abuse of the process of the court.”
- He said the investigation “on which the said charge was predicated, was the subject matter of suit number: FCH/PH/FHR/165/2021 wherein this Hon. Court, Coram Pam, J. had, in the final judgment at the suit of the applicant. declared unlawful and made an order prohibiting the EFCC from further proceeding.