MONEY LAUNDERING CASES IN NIGERIA
Money laundering is the process of concealing the origins of illegally obtained money, typically by means of transfers through a legitimate business. The principal law governing money laundering in Nigeria is the Money Laundering Prohibition Act (2011). The leading government agency investigating and prosecuting the offenses of money laundering in Nigeria is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
There are several notable money laundering cases in Nigeria.
In the case of UDE JONES UDEOGU V. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA & ORS (2016) LPELR-40102(SC), the issue arose when the Ude Jones Udeogu, Orji Uzor Kalu, Slok Nigeria were all arraigned before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. This arraignment occurred in the year 2005 when some indigenes of Abia State wrote a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against Orji Uzor Kalu, the 2nd Respondent herein, who was then the Governor of Abia State.
After an investigation was carried out by EFCC, there was evidence to show that the then Governor of Abia State had carried out some shady dealings with the 3rd Respondent, Slok Nig. Ltd. It was alleged that Mr. Orji Kalu had gone ahead to withdraw several billion on Naira which belonged to the State and converted the same into various bank drafts and lodged the same in the account of Slok Nig. Ltd. In the circumstance, the 1st Respondent filed a criminal charge against the Appellant and the 3rd Respondent.
The Appellant and the 3rd Respondent filed a joint application on 11th July 2008, wherein they sought for an order quashing the charges preferred against them. The learned trial Judge dismissed the application to quash the charges brought before the court.
The Appellant and the 2nd and 3rd Respondents relied on Section 14(1) (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004 under which the charge was brought that provides and follows:-
“14. (1) any person who-
- converts, or transfer resources or properties derived directly or indirectly from illicit traffic in drugs and psychotropic substances or any other crime or illegal act, with the aim of concealing or disguising the illicit origin of the resources or properties or aiding any person involved in the illicit traffic in narcotic drug or psychotropic substances or any other crime or illegal act to avoid the illegal consequences of his action commits an offence under this section and it liable on conviction to a term of not less than 2 years or more than 3 years.”
The Supreme Court went ahead to provide the ingredients of money laundering by stating as argued by the Learned Counsel to the Respondent as follows:
(i) The accused converted or transferred resources or property;
(ii) The resources or property must have been derived directly or indirectly from drug-related offenses or any other crimes or illegal acts:
(iii) The conversion or transfer of the resources must be with the aim:
(a) Concealing or disguising the illicit origin of the resources or property; or
(b) Aiding any person involved in any of the acts of drug-related offenses or any other crime or illegal act so as to evade the illegal consequences of his action.
The Court, in this case, concluded and further held that:
“In the case at hand, the funds allegedly transferred by the Appellant were funds originally in the account of the Abia State Government meant for the development of that state. It was alleged that the funds were later withdrawn illegally from the Government’s Account on the pretence that these were for an official purpose, but in fact, the money withdrawn in cash was used to purchase bank drafts and the said drafts were later traced to the Appellant’s Account and were subsequently paid into the account of the 3rd Respondent. Clearly the circumstance in which the withdrawals of this money were made requires some explanation from the Appellant about his involvement”
The criminal trial was later continued at the Federal High Court. Upon the conclusion of the trial, the defendants were all found guilty of the offenses preferred against them by the prosecution.
However, all the accused were later discharged by the Supreme Court on the ground that the Judge who heard and delivered judgment in respect of the criminal case has been elevated to the Court of Appeal as at the time he delivered the judgment, and thereby lacked the jurisdiction to still preside on such a case and deliver judgment. All the accused are to be re-arraigned as ordered by the Supreme Court.
In the case of EFCC V DR. MARTINS OLUWAFEMI THOMAS, (2018) LPELR-45547(CA), the sum of $2,198,900.00 was found in the possession of Ibiteye John Bamidele. Being such a huge sum of money, the said man was arrested at the local wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport while trying to board a flight to Abuja. When investigations commenced, the Respondent, Dr Martins Oluwafemi Thomas came to lay claim on the money and said he gave the money to John Bamidele to take it to Abuja. He made a statement and he was later granted administrative bail. He was asked to deposit his international passport. Several days later, the Respondent filed an application before the Federal High Court seeking the under listed reliefs:
- A declaration that the sum and his international passport seized is illegal and ultra vires the powers of the EFCC.
- A declaration that the EFCC had no right to arrest or detain or declare the applicant as a wanted person
- A declaration that the EFCC has no right to restrict the applicant’s movement in or outside Nigeria on the basis of the unlawful seizure of the Applicant’s money in the sum of $2,200,000.00
- A declaration that the EFCC was in breach of the applicant’s fundamental human rights.
The application was opposed by the Appellant and upon due consideration by the Federal High Court, the trial Court granted the reliefs. On appeal, the EFCC argued that the lower court failed to take into consideration the investigations carried on by the Appellant in ascertaining the offense of money laundering which involves disguising or concealing the illicit origin of wealth. The Appellant argued that there was a prima facie case against the Respondent alleging that the Respondent gave the huge sum of cash to the said Bamidele without passing the same through a financial institution, which was in contravention to Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011. However, the Court of Appeal held that the appeal lacked merit and therefore the appeal failed.
In this case of OYEBODE ALADE ATOYEBI V. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2017) LPELR-43831(SC), Mr Alade Atoyebi alongside one other person were arraigned before the trial Court on a 54 count charge wherein they were accused of the offense of money laundering. The accused now appellant was charged for accepting cash payments from the Lagos State House of Assembly which was above the specified amount allowed under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, without going through a financial institution The accused now appellant made an application for no-case submission at the trial court and same was upheld by the court. The state appealed against the decision of the trial court to the court of appeal where it was held that there was indeed a good case made against the accused persons and this position was also upheld at the supreme court of Nigeria.
DEFENCES TO MONEY LAUNDERING CHARGES
Money Laundering is considered a very serious offense, and anyone caught engaging in such an offense will be prosecuted accordingly. However, there are several defenses to money laundering offense recognized under the law, but we shall briefly explain the two major defenses below.
- ABSENCE OF INTENTION
The intent to commit a crime known as “mens rea” in law must be present before any person can be convicted of an offense of money laundering. If the Defendant can prove he or she is unaware of the money that was obtained is illegitimate, then such a person may lack the requisite mens rea required for the commissioning of the crime.
This is applicable where the prosecution failed to prove the ingredients of the money laundering offense. In the case of Ude Jones Udeogu V. Federal Republic Of Nigeria & Ors (2016) Lpelr-40102(Sc)(Supra) the Supreme Court listed the ingredients of a money laundering offense. The prosecution must prove all these ingredients of the charges beyond reasonable doubt for there to be any conviction. Where the prosecution failed to prove the ingredients of a money laundering offense, such charges are liable to be dismissed by the court.
Finally, it is important for business people and individuals to regularly consult with lawyers or be familiar with the provisions of the Money laundering Act (2011) to ascertain what acts or financial transactions may lead to money laundering offenses, as ignorant of the law is not an excuse. For instance, pursuant to the provisions of Section 10 of the Money Laundering Act (Prohibition) Act, a Financial Institutions or Desgnatated Non-Financial Institutions must report within 7 to 30 days any single lodgement of more than N5,0000,000 or its equivalent in case of an individual or N10,000,000 or its equivalent in the case of a body corporate to the Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering (SCUML).
By Criminal Defense Team at Resolution Law Firm.