A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday convicted and sentenced a former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Executive Director (ED), Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba, to seven years imprisonment for laundering N1.5 billion.
The trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba handed down the verdict after he found him guilty of the seven-count charge of conversion and criminal breach of trust brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Buba in his judgement held that the EFCC proved its case against the convict beyond reasonable doubt.
The judge therefore held that he is convinced that the convict stole the sum from NIMASA while he was in charge of Maritime, Safety and Shipping.
The court, therefore, sentenced Agaba to seven years imprisonment on each of the seven counts, totalling 49 years.
But the judge held that the sentences will run concurrently, meaning Agaba will spend a maximum of only seven years in jail starting from Wednesday.
He declined the application of the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo seeking the forfeiture of properties allegedly bought by Agaba from the proceeds of his crime.
Justice Buba upheld the submission of the Agaba’s lawyer, E.D. Oyeneke that the property is the subject of another suit before another judge of the Federal High Court.
But the judge rejected the request of Oyeneke urging the court to order a non-custidial sentencing for his client, in view of his age and the risk of contacting COVID-19 infection in prison.
He held “In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, counsel should consider approaching the state for pardon for the convict.”
The EFCC had in 2015 arraigned Agaba alongside a former NIMASA Managing Director (MD) Dr. Patrick Akpolobokemi, a former NIMASA staff Ekene Nwakuche and the chairman of Ndokwa Local Government Area (LGA) of Delta State, Juan Amechee Governor, for allegedly laundering N2.6 billion.
They pleaded not guilty.
Akpobolokemi filed a no case submission but Buba, on October 16, 2017, dismissed it.
This was overturned by the Court of Appeal in Lagos on June 1, 2016, which unanimously discharged and acquitted Akpobolokemi.
Following the appellate court’s decision, the anti-graft agency on October 10, 2019, withdrew the charges against Governor and Nwakuche.
But the EFCC maintained an amended charge against Agaba.
Captain Agaba was accused by the EFCC of converting through Seabulk Offshore Operator Limited the sum of N44 million property of the NIMASA which sum he reasonably ought to known form part of proceeds of his unlawful activity to wit; criminal breach of trust and thereby committed and offence contrary to section 15 (2) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under section 15 (3) of the same Act.
He allegedly committed the offence between December 23, 2013 and March 13, 2014 in Lagos
Agaba was also alleged to have on or about January 2014 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of the court converted through Ace Protehesis Limited the sum of N66 million property of NIMASA which sum he reasonably ought to know form part of proceed of his unlawful activity to wit: criminal breach of trust and there by committed and offence contrary to section 15(2) of the money laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under section 15 (3) of the same Act.
The convict was also alleged to have between August 26, 2014 in Lagos unlawfully converted the sum of N21 million.
And between February 4 and March 13, 2014 he allegedly converted another sum of N402, 480, 000.00 an offence punishable under the same Act.
Agaba was also alleged to have also on about the 6th day of November 2014 converted through Extreme Vertex Nigeria Limited Property of NIMASA the sum N525, 000, 000.00.
He was further alleged to have on February 12, 2015 converted though Aroward Consulting Limited another sum of N70,000.000.00 property of NIMASA an offence punishable under the Money Laundering Prohibition Act.
Count seven of the charge alleged that the defendant on or about the 28th May , 2015 in Lagos converted through Aroward Consulting Limited converted the sum of N176, 000,000.00 property of NIMASA , the offence is said to be contrary to section 15(2) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act , 2011 as Amended and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act.