After about 12 months of denial, a Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday dismissed a claim by the Managing Director of Federick Hamilton Global Services Limited, Osarenkhoe Afe, that he was compelled to make confessional statements to investigators with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Gabriel Kolawole, in a ruling yesterday on a trial-within-trial conducted from June 21, 2016, held among others that Afe voluntarily made the statements.
The court then admitted them in evidence.
Afe is being tried with a former Head of Service to the Federation (HOSF), Steve Oronsaye, on an amended 35-count charge in which they are accused of “stealing and obtaining by false pretence” about N2billion.
After their arraignment last year, Afe, through his lawyer Oluwole Aladedoye, objected to the admission of his statements in evidence, arguing that they were obtained from his client by “oppression”, a development that necessitated the conduct of the trial-within-trial.
The statements were made by Afe to the EFCC on February 24, 2011 and March 16, 2011, in the course of investigating five companies – Hamilton Global Services Limited; Cluster Logistic Limited; Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited, and Drew Investment & Construction Company Limited – alleged to have been used to perpetrate the fraud.
Prosecuting lawyer, Oluwaleke Atolagbe called three witnesses to prove that Afe made the statements to EFCC’s investigators voluntarily.
The witnesses, who were operatives on the EFCC’s Pension Task Force, testified that Afe made the confessional statements, and that “he was not coerced” into making them.
Ruling yesterday, Justice Kolawole said: “The second defendant (Afe) was in a good state of mind when he made the statements.”
The judge said if indeed, he was coerced into making the statements as claimed, he never took any steps, like writing “a letter of protest” and asking “the court to order the EFCC to produce the statement he was coerced to write.
“If in the course of proceedings, there are new developments, which put the statement in great doubt; this court has the power to expunge it, as it is easier to do that, and I don’t have power to remove evidence that has already been objected,” the judge said.
Justice Kolawole proceeded to admit the statements as exhibits in the case.
The judge granted a motion brought by Oronsaye’s lawyer, Barth Ogar, praying the court to release his client’s international passport to enable him travel abroad for medicals.
In granting the motion, the judge ordered Ogar to, in the next 48 hours, file a personal undertaking that the defendant shall return his passport on or before September 30 for purposes of his further trial.
Justice Kolawole adjourned to October 12, for the “continuation of judicial trial of the defendants”.
The EFCC, on May 18, 2016 re-arraigned Oronsaye and Afe before Justice Kolawole on the amended 35-count charge.
Oronsaye, Afe, his company and other firms are named as defendants in the charge dated November 2, 2015.
The case was first taken before Justice Kolawole on July 13, 2015, where a 25-count charge was filed against Oronsaye and others, to which along with his co-defendants they pleaded not guilty.
Before the trial could commence before Justice Kolawole, the court’s Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta, reassigned the case file to another judge, Justice John Tsoho.
On March 1, 2016 when proceedings were to commence before Justice Tsoho, the judge stunned all when he said: “It has been realised that the case came to me in error, and I’ve been instructed that it should be returned to my brother judge, Justice Kolawole, who started it. He should continue where he stopped. I wish you the best of luck.”
When parties returned to his court, Justice Kolawole said: “The Chief Judge wanted to redistribute cases to new judges transferred to the Federal High Court, Abuja in order to decongest the court, but this case file of Oronsaye was taken in error to Justice Tsoho. This explanation becomes necessary so the public will not be wondering why such back and forth movement.”
04 July, 2017