The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to order the forfeiture of assets seized from the convicted former acting Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Calistus Obi.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun had on May 23 found him guilty of money laundering and converting the agency’s funds to personal use.
The judge, however, adjourned until next Tuesday for sentencing.
The prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, yesterday urged the judge to impose the maximum punishment, which is 14-year jail term.
Obi was charged with a former NIMASA staff, Dismass Alu Adoon, Grand Pact Limited and Global Sea Investment Limited.
Oyedepo said Section 15(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, which the convicts violated, provides for a maximum prison term of 14 years.
He said though the law permitted the judge to exercise discretion, the minimum limit was seven years.
Oyedepo argued that Obi and Alu did not deserve to enjoy the court’s discretion.
According to him, they let the judge to go through the rigour of full-fledged trial rather than admitting their crime and opting for a plea bargain at the beginning.
“This case is an opportunity to send a clear signal to public servants and those entrusted with public offices not to breach the trust reposed in them,” he said.
The EFCC lawyer added that the convicts should be made to refund the public funds they converted to their own use to the federal government.
“The first and second defendants converted a total of N111million to their use.
“The first, third and fourth defendants converted a total of N114, 450,000.
“My Lord has the power to order the defendants to return this money or compensate the federal government for the funds that they have converted to their use.
“I also seek Your Lordship’s order for the forfeiture of the N30 million that was recovered from the first defendant by the EFCC in the course of investigation,” Oyedepo said.
According to the prosecutor, Obi admitted that he used part of the money he converted to build Ladiva Hotels and Events Limited in Asaba, the Delta State capital.
“We urge Your Lordship to forfeit the property to the federal government,” Oyedepo said.
The EFCC lawyer urged the court to withdraw the licences of the two convicted firms in line with Section 15(4)(a)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
He said they should also be fined 100 per cent of the money they aided the other convicts to convert.
But Obi’s counsel, Mobolaji Kuti, urged Justice Olatoregun to temper justice with mercy.
He said his client were first-time offenders.
The lawyer said maximum prison term was only reserved for serial offenders by virtue of Section 412(2)(d) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
Kuti said his client was a devout Christian and had served as a local government chairman before joining NIMASA.
He said contrary to EFCC’s claim, Ladiva Hotels and Events was not acquired with proceeds of crime but was a joint venture between Obi and a friend.
He, therefore, urged the judge not to order its forfeiture to the federal government.
Kuti also told the judge that his client preferred to be sent to Kirikiri Prison rather than Ikoyi Prison.
Adoon’s lawyer, Mr. Collins Ogbonna, sought a non-custodial sentence for his client, whom he noted was a junior officer at NIMASA who merely ran errands for his bosses.
He said his client did not benefit from the money; he prayed Justice Olatoregun “to give human face to justice.”
EFCC arraigned the defendants Obi on April 12, 2016 on eight counts of converting N378,810,000 from NIMASA.
Obi, a former NIMASA Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, took over from Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, who is also facing multiple money laundering and theft charges.
Justice Olatoregun found Obi guilty of counts five, six, seven and eight; she also found Adoon guilty of counts two and four.
After Tuesday’s arguments, the judge said he needed some time to look at the cited laws before imposing a sentence.
She ordered that the convicts be taken back to prison and further adjourned June 3 for sentencing.