The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has withdrawn the N25.4bn corruption case it filed against the Chairman of the defunct Skye Bank (now Polaris), Tunde Ayeni; and the Managing Director, Timothy Oguntayo, after entering into a secret settlement with the businessmen that may have involved the forfeiture of N15bn in cash and assets.

The EFCC under the leadership of Ibrahim Magu, had on March 7, 2019 arraigned Ayeni, Oguntayo and two other companies before Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of a Federal High Court, Abuja on 10 charges bordering on money laundering to the tune of N25.4bn.

One of the counts reads: “That you, Tunde Ayeni, whilst being the Chairman, Board of Directors of the defunct Skye Bank Plc, between the 1st of January, 2014 and 31st December, 2014 at Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did commit an offence, to wit: converting the aggregate sum of N17,415,080,000 taken in cash from defunct Skye Bank Plc Suspense Account and delivered to you by the staff of the defunct Skye Bank Plc, which money you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful act, to wit: fraud and thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 15(2)(b) and (3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended).”

Tunde Ayeni

At the hearing on December 8, 2020, the EFCC lawyer, Samuel Chime, stated, “Parties have made considerable progress. The prosecution has received a property in furtherance of settlement in this matter; a property in Lagos which the defendants relinquished. But we had to rely on AMCON and Skye Bank who are the nominal complainant in this matter.

“AMCON did not accept the value as N15bn. They valued the property at N10bn. As a result of this, the defendants have agreed to provide an additional N5bn.”

The certified true copies of the records of proceedings obtained by our reporter showed that the EFCC decided to withdraw the charges it filed against Ayeni and the ex-MD of the bank, informing the court that a settlement had been reached.

However, the final amount of money Ayeni and his co-defendant reportedly returned was never made public, unlike other cases involving bank executives.

The lawyer of the anti-graft agency, Abba Mohammed, subsequently informed the court that the charges against Ayeni and the ex-bank MD had been withdrawn and asked the court to strike them out in line with Section 108(2a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.

Two companies – Control Dredging Company Ltd and Royaltex Paramount Ventures Ltd – which were the co-defendants to Ayeni and Oguntayo, were then re-arraigned and made to plead guilty to the crimes that Ayeni had been accused of committing.

The prosecution stated, “The business of the day is arraignment and we are ready. Before we proceed, the complainant will want to take advantage of Section 108(2a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act to withdraw the charge against the 1st (Ayeni) and 2nd (Oguntayo) defendants and proceed against only the 3rd (Control Dredging Company) and 4th (Royaltex Paramount Ventures).”

Reacting to the development, activist lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, said although plea bargain has its advantages as it saves cost, it ought not to be abused.

Effiong wondered why the EFCC allowed Ayeni to escape conviction and return only part of the money while Internet fraudsters were usually made to plead guilty and forfeit all their property to the commission.

“There has to be deterrence in the course of plea bargain so that others would not be emboldened to steal and then return a fraction of money and escape sentencing. There should be a guilty plea on record. Without this, the person cannot be said to have committed any offence. If they are saying he should walk free, then why can’t we have a 100 per cent refund of the amount allegedly stolen? He asked.

Auwal Rafsanjani, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC/Transparency International said the plea bargain system in Nigeria was promoting corruption.

When contacted for comment, the Spokesman for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, said he was not aware of the development.

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