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N225m fraud: Convicted former NIMASA DG to pay 7m in lieu of 7yrs prison sentence

A former acting Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA), Calistus Obi, who was accused of stealing N225m, was on Monday sentenced to seven years in prison on the orders of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.

Obi would either spend seven years in prison or pay a fine of N7 million.

Justice Mojisola Olatoregun sentenced Obi alongside Dismal Alu, who was the second defendant in the case.

At the resumed proceedings on Monday, Justice Olatoregun sentenced Obi and Alu to seven years imprisonment each on count two, three, four and count six to eight with an option of N7m fine on each count.

She further imposed a fine of N10m on the two firms, Grand Pact Limited and Global Sea Investment for count five.

However, Justice Olatoregun noted that the sentence would run concurrently.

Tribune Online recalls that the duo had been standing trial alongside two firms, Grand Pact Limited and Global Sea Investment.

In the eight counts filed against them, the EFCC said they conspired among themselves on August 5, 2015, to convert N225m belonging to NIMASA to their own.

The prosecution said they acted contrary to sections 15 and 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.

To prove the allegations, the EFCC called eight witnesses and tendered 32 exhibits.

At the close of the prosecution’s case on November 11, 2016, the convicts filed a no-case submission, insisting there was no prima facie case against them.

But in a ruling on February 21, 2017, Justice Olatoregun dismissed the no-case submission and ordered them to enter their defence.

After the judge convicted them on May 23, 2019, the EFCC urged the court to impose the maximum punishment prescribed by the law on the convicts.

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The prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, had told the judge that Section 15(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, which Obi and Alu were convicted of violating, prescribed a maximum prison term of 14 years for an offender.

He said though the law permitted the judge to exercise discretion in sentencing, the minimum limit was seven years.

He, however, argued that Obi and Alu did not qualify to enjoy the court’s discretion because they allowed the judge to go through the rigour of full-fledged trial rather than own up and opt for a plea bargain at the start of the case.

Oyedepo said Obi and Alu’s case had presented the judiciary with an opportunity to send a clear signal to public servants and those entrusted with public offices not to breach the trust reposed in them.

He said in addition to the 14 years’ imprisonment, the convicts should be made to refund to the Federal Government the public funds they converted to their own.

As for the two firms, the prosecutor said the court should, in line with Section 15(4)(a)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, order the withdrawal of their licences, while they should also be fined 100 per cent of the money they aided the other convicts in converting.

But counsel for Obi and the two firms, Mr Mobolaji Kuti, urged Justice Olatoregun to temper justice with mercy on the grounds that his clients were first-time offenders.

While urging the judge not to impose the maximum prison term, Kuti said it was only reserved for serial offenders by virtue of Section 412(2)(d) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, adding that his client was a devoted Christian and had before the NIMASA appointment served as a local government chairman.

He said contrary to the claim by the EFCC, Ladiva Hotels and Event Limited was not acquired with proceeds of crime but was a joint venture between Obi and a friend.

He, therefore, urged the judge not to order its forfeiture to the Federal Government.

On his own part, Alu’s lawyer, Mr Collins Ogbonna, sought a non-custodial sentence for his client, whom he noted was a junior officer at NIMASA merely running an errand.

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