The Federal High Court, Abuja has suspended hearing on the corruption case instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, against one Nicholas Ashinze, an army colonel and three others for alleged illegal transfer of N3 billion.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole, in his ruling on Tuesday said that he was suspending the trial following the proven cases of falsehood and media trial by the anti-graft agency against the accused persons.
Ashinze, the primary defendant was an aide to the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, who is also on trial for mismanaging $2.1 billion meant for the procurement of arms for Nigeria’s armed forces.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Counsel to Ashinze, Ernest Nwoye, brought to the attention of the court a press statement issued by the EFCC in which his client was purported to have been indicted by the court for diverting and misappropriating about N36 billion.
The EFCC in the statement also referred to Ashinze as a retired officer, when actually the accused person is still a serving officer of the Nigerian army.
Nwoye tendered the statement, which was issued by Wilson Uwujaren, the Head of Media and Publicity in the EFCC, as well as the newspaper publications before the trial judge as a proof of bias and misrepresentation of the court proceeding of March 7, 2017 by EFCC.
He pointed out that his client was never charged by EFCC for any offence on N36 billion diversion and misappropriation and wondered where EFCC media team, that was not present in the court, got its proceeding that the defendant had been indicted for the amount.
A clearly surprised Justice Kolawle then asked the EFCC counsel, Ofem Uket, whether he was aware of the said press statement or whether he ever issued any.
Uket said he had never granted any press interview in respect of the trial but admitted that he had received a letter of complaint from the accused person’s counsel and that he consulted with EFCC and discovered that the Press Statement was actually released to the media.
Uket, however added that contrary to the charge of N3 billion alleged transfer, evidence from witnesses have shown that about N5 billion was involved in the case.
But Justice Kolawole said that the hearing would have to stop until the EFCC puts its house in order by stopping to mislead the public on court proceedings.
He said: “It is unfair for EFCC as a complainant in this trial to resort to self-help by engaging the defendant in the media trial at the same time in the court trial.
“If you want to try the defendant in the media, you have to limit yourself to the media. You have to stop misleading the public in the fact of this trial.
“This press statement by one Wilson Uwujaren who claimed to be from EFCC is scandalous and prejudice to fair trial of the defendant in this matter.
The Judge pointed out that “trial of the defendant has nothing to do with N36 billion diversion and misappropriation” ordering the EFCC to retract the press statement it issued to that regards.
“The retraction has to be done between now and April 13, 2017,” Kolawole ordered.
It would be recalled that the quartet of Ashinze, an Austrian, Wolfgang Reinl; Edidiong Idiong and Sagir Mohammed were arraigned before Justice Kolawole on a 13-count charge of corruption and money laundering.They pleaded not guilty to the charges.