The court of appeal has upturned the N750,000 fine given to John Yusuf, a former assistant director of the Federal Civil Service, in 2013, after he pleaded guilty to embezzling police pension funds.
The appellate court ruled that Yusuf will now serve a six-year prison sentence and also pay a fine of N22.9 billion.
Yusuf was arraigned by the EFCC before Justice Abubakar Talba of the FCT High Court in 2013, alongside four others — Atiku Abubakar, a permanent secretary; Ahmed Wada, a director; Veronica Onyegbula, a cashier; and Sani Zira, an ICT officer — on a 20-count charge of converting N33 billion from the police pension funds to personal use.
He pleaded guilty to three counts of betrayal of trust and fraudulently converting N2 billion of the police pension to personal use. However, in a surprise ruling, the trial judge, sentenced Yusuf to two years imprisonment on each of the charges, but gave him an option of N250,000 fine for each count, totaling N750,000.
The EFCC, not satisfied with the ruling, took the case to the court of appeal, seeking to determine whether the judgement by the lower court was appropriate to the crimes to which the accused person pleaded guilty.
#ICYMI Court of Appeal overturns N750,000 fine awarded by a FCT High Court on Jan 28, 2013 to John Yakubu Yusuf, ex-Director in Police Pension office, who was tried by the EFCC for N33bn pension fraud, sentences him to six years with N22.9 billion as fine. #JusticeForPensioners
— EFCC Nigeria (@officialEFCC) March 22, 2018
Yusuf, on his part, filed an application urging the court of appeal to strike out the appeal on the grounds that it was filed outside the mandatory 90 days.
Delivering its ruling on Wednesday, the panel of three appeal court judges unanimously held that the day the judgement was delivered cannot be included in the computation of the 90 days.
Therefore, since the High Court judgement was delivered on January 28, 2013, the 90 days started running from January 29 and thus, the 90th day would fall on a Sunday.
“Since the 90th day was a Sunday and by virtue of s. 15 (5) of Interpretation Act, a Sunday is a holiday, the next day which the notice of appeal was filed is within time, hence the appeal is competent and is therefore allowed,” the panel held.
The judges also unanimously ruled that the sentence of the High Court was not commensurate with the charges the accused person pleaded guilty to. The sentence was consequently quashed.
The new judgement will see Yusuf serve a two year prison sentence for each of the three counts. In addition, for Count 17, he is to pay a fine of N20 billion; N1.4 billion on Count 18, and N1.5 billion on Count 19.
The sentence of imprisonment is to run concurrently, and the fine is to be cumulative, the court ruled.