A former Chief of Air Staff,Â Air Marshall AdesolaÂ Retd. and 10Â others facing a N22.8b fraud trial are in talks with the Economic andÂ Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to enter plea bargain with the
Federal Government.The EFCC tendered a draft copy of the terms of the potential pleaÂ bargain before Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, LagosÂ yesterday.
Amosun is standing trial alongside Air Vice Marshal Jacob Adigun andÂ Air Commodore Gbadebo Olugbenga, all of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF),Â and eight private firms.
The firms include Delfina Oil and Gas Limited, Mcallan Oil and GasÂ Limited, Hebron Housing and Properties Company Limited and TrapezitesÂ BDC Fonds and Pricey Limited.
Others are Deegee Oil and Gas Limited, Timsegg Investment Limited andÂ Solomon Health Care Limited.
The defendants were arraigned by the anti-graft agency on June 29, onÂ a 26-count charge of conspiracy, stealing, money laundering,Â concealing of proceeds of crime and conversion of funds belonging to
the Air Force to their personal use.
They were alleged to have committed the offences between March 5,Â 2014, and May 4, 2015.
According to the Commission, the offences contravene Sections 18(a) of Â the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012, and areÂ punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.
But they entered a plea of innocence following which Amosun, AdigunÂ and Olugbenga were granted bail of N500m each with two sureties in theÂ like sum.
Justice Idris also ordered them to deposit their passports in theÂ custody of the court pending trial.
At the resumed hearing of the matter yesterday, EFCC prosecutor,Â Rotimi Oyedepo, informed the court that the defendants had began pleaÂ bargain negotiations with the government.
He tendered a draft copy of the terms of the plea bargain to theÂ court, and indicated that the defendants were already in possession ofÂ their copies of the terms.
Oyedepo urged the court to allow the Commission to open the defendantsâ€™ trial.Â But defence counsel, comprising Mr. Norrison Quakers (SAN), Mr. KemiÂ Balogun (SAN), Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), Mr. Rotimi O. (SAN) andÂ Mr. A. Etuokwu, opposed the commencement of trial.
They informed the court that the business of the day was for report ofÂ compliance with the order of the court regarding the verification ofÂ the defendantsâ€™ bail conditions.
The EFCC, they argued, failed to inform the court that it had yet toÂ obey the order. Â Amosuâ€™s lawyer, Chief Ayorinde said: â€œThe prosecution left out aÂ fundamental issue, which is the court admitting bail to the accused.
As at now, the accused are still in the custody of the Commission or Â prisonsâ€™ custody. We have satisfied all the conditions.â€
In his argument, Quakers said the prosecution was not in a position toÂ tell the court that it was ready for trial.
â€œWe are in court to inform it as to the state of affairs as par theÂ bail. We are surprised that the prosecution failed to tell the courtÂ the steps taken on the bail. Let the prosecution tell the court the
report of their finding,â€ he said.
Although Quakers admitted that the defendantsâ€™ lawyers met with theÂ EFCC for the plea bargain, he said since the first meeting, theÂ Commission failed to communicate with them, and only served them theÂ draft of the agreement in court yesterday.
He added that though the defendants initiated the idea of a pleaÂ bargain, they needed to be out of the EFCC custody before they wouldÂ be able to negotiate properly with the prosecution.
â€œWhen a man is in a custodian environment, anything you want him toÂ say, he would say; anything you want him to do, he would do. We should not be stampeded or boxed into a corner,â€ Quakers said.
He argued further that defendants were entitled under Section 36(6)Â (b) of the 1999 Constitution to be given adequate time and facility toÂ prepare their defence.
Olugbengaâ€™s lawyer, Mr. Etuokwu, while aligning himself with theÂ submissions of the two senior lawyers, urged the court toÂ discountenance the prosecutionâ€™s applications to commence the trial
But, opposing them, Oyedepo referred the court to its former rulingÂ which stated that the matter was slated for trial.
â€œThe court will also see that we did not oppose the bail applications.
We didnâ€™t induce them to approach us for plea bargain.
â€œOn the issue of verification, we are in the process of complying withÂ the court order. The accused persons took their pleas and on theÂ second day, the Court Registrars forwarded some documents to theÂ Commission for authentication, and we took our time during theÂ holidays to verify these documents.Â â€œI urge the court to allow us, if they said they no longer believe inÂ the plea bargain, we are ready for trialâ€.
After back and forth arguments by the parties, Justice Idris, in aÂ bench ruling, upheld the defendantsâ€™ request and ordered the EFCC toÂ conclude the verification of the defendantsâ€™ bail conditions on orÂ Â before Monday, July 11.
The court also noted that the defendants had shown a â€œclear, positive and strong intentionâ€ to settle with the government.Â The judge adjourned till September 12 and 13, 2016 for trial.
According to the charge, the accused persons are alleged to haveÂ converted of N21, 467, 634, 707.43 billion, property of the NAF, whichÂ sum was derived from stealing, to their personal use.
They were also accused of indirectly converting N5, 291, 306, 950.28Â Billion, N3.6bn property of the (NAF).
In another instance, the EFCC also alleged that Amosun and the othersÂ stole N323, 319, 283.81 from the accounts of the NAF to purchase forÂ themselves a property situated at No.1, River Street, Wuse II Abuja.
Amosu, Adgun and Olugbenga, were also alleged to have between July 17,Â and September 16, 2014, â€œused the British Pounds Sterling equivalentÂ of sum of N663, 443,291 million, removed from the accounts of theÂ Nigerian Air Force to purchase for yourselves two properties situatedÂ at 50-52 Tenterden Grove, London (NW41TH) and 93B Shirehall Park,Â London NW4 2QU, United Kingdom.â€
Other counts include purchasing a property situated at 1, RiverÂ Street, Wuse II Abuja with N202, 920, 200 million, belonging to theÂ NAF and jointly removing N428, 139, 539 million, from the NAF accounts
â€œto renovate and purchase medical equipment for their hospital,Â Solomon HealthCare Limited, locates at 24, Adeniyi Jones Street, IkejaÂ Lagos.â€