By Taiye Agbaje
A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, convicted and sentenced Abdulrasheed Maina, Chairman, defunct Pension Reformed Task Team (PRTT), to 8 years imprisonment.
Justice Okon Abang, in his judgment, held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had proven the essential ingredients of all the 12 counts preferred against Maina beyond reasonable doubt in the money laundering suit.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the EFCC had, on Oct. 25, 2019, arraigned Maina (1st defendant) and his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd (2nd defendant) before the judge.
Delivering the judgment, the judge sentenced the ex-pension boss to three years in count one, five years in count two, eight years in count three, eight years in count four, two years in count five, five years in count six, and eight years in count seven.
Abang, who also sentenced Maina to three years in count eight, five years in count nine, eight years in count 10, three years in count 11 and three years in count 12, ordered that the terms of imprisonment shall run concurrently beginning from Oct. 25, 2019, being the date he was arraigned.
He noted that though the law prescribed a maximum sentence of14-year-jail term for the offence, he could not but temper justice with mercy after Maina’s plea..
He ordered Maina and his company to refund the sum of N183, 568 million and 223, 396 dollars within 90 days to the Federal Government coffers.
He also ordered the defendants to refund another N314, 481 million and N1.82 billion within 90 days to the Federal Government.
The judge, who ordered that the choice property situated at Life Camp, Abuja, said to have been bought with the proceed of the illegal activities be forfeited to the Federal Government, also held that another property in Jabi, Abuja, should also be forfeited to the government.
Justice Abang further ruled that his BMW 5 Series exotic car and the bulletproof car should be actioned and the proceed forfeited to the Federal Government.
He ordered that the companies used in the corrupt act should wound up.
Justice Abang said Maina, who was the chairman of the pension team at the time pension money was stolen, was found guilty in all the counts and was accordingly convicted.
“In my view, it is pensioners’ funds the 1st defendant (Maina) stole, and some of the pensioners died out of frustration,” he said.
He said the anti-corruption agency was able to establish that Maina opened two anonymous accounts in United Bank of Africa (UBA) and five accounts in Fidelity Bank Plc to perpetrate his unlawful act.
Abang noted that the EFCC witness who testified in the course of the case pointed out that Maina, whose salary as a civil servant was N256, 000, couldn’t have had such money running into billions in his accounts even if he saved all his salaries in his 35 years in service, stating “that the money formed part of unlawful activities to which the 1st defendant reasonably ought to have known.”
He also said the EFCC was able to nail Maina, using his sister-in-law, who is a UBA staff; his blood sister, a civil servant and younger brother, who was a Fidelity Bank staff, among the prosecution witnesses.
The judge said that Maina could not defend himself on the evidence given by the fifth prosecution witness that he (Maina) gave him (witness) about 1.4 million dollars in cash to purchase a property valued at N150 million located at Life Camp, Abuja.
Abang, who noted that the anti-corruption agency called nine witnesses in all, said Maina was only able to call a witness in his defence before the then EFCC’s lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, applied that his right to call more witnesses be foreclosed, following the manner the defence counsel handled their case.
Earlier in the judgment, Maina’s lawyer, Olusegun Jolaawo, SAN, urged the court to temper justice with mercy, praying that “the convict is obviously remorseful.
“He has made some bad decisions for which the court has adjudged guilty of.
“But as a human being, he is not infallible and none of us is.
“For this, we urge you to give him a second chance by not bringing the full weight of the law down on him.
“With all humility, we urge you to give him the minimum possible punishment,” he said.
According to the lawyer, because he is the breadwinner of the family which is a rather large family; both nuclear and extended.
Jolaawo also urged the court to have mercy on the ex-pension boss on the ground of his serious health challenge.
“My lord, his health condition is deteriorating. I plead because he has a serious health challenge.
“I have documentary evidence that his health is very precarious. As my lord is aware, no body is immune to illness; anybody can fall sick,” he added.
Presenting his plea of allocutus, Maina apologised for whatever wrongdoing he might have committed.
“My lord, I want to apologise for any thing I might have done with or without my intention; those adduced to me,” he pleaded.
The ex-PRTT chair informed the court that he was presently suffering from turmoil which needed urgent medicare.
“I want to thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to say this. I was never opportune to be in the witness box,” he said.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Abang directed the prison service to ensure that Maina received a proper medical attention with tight security.
He said he had carefully considered the allocutus presented by the convict in accordance with the Supreme Court decision.
He said though he would take into consideration the allocutus presented by Maina, “the parts of this case are sordid, immoral and dirty.”
According to him, the part of this case portrays the immoral decadence of the society we live in.
“I think we need a national rebirth in this country,” he said.
He described Maina as “heartless,” having considered the monumental fraud of how the pensioners’ funds were stolen by him, running over N2.1 billion.
“The 1st defendant treated the pensioners with levity; some of them have suffered and died,” he held.
The judge said it was disheartening that Maina, through the assistance of UBA and Fidelity Bank Plc, deprived the pensioners, who gave their youthful age to serve the country, their legitimate right.
“Meanwhile, the convict, far away in Dubai, was buying choice property, living in affluence, driving bulletproof cars far beyond his legitimate earnings.
“This is to send a message to those who are in the act to have a rethink,” he said.
According to Abang, dishonesty is an endemic disease in this country that requires urgent treatment.
The judge noted that the UBA and Fidelity Bank Plc would have been joined along with the defendants in the case, “though the complainant is at liberty to choose who to join in their suit.”
“Now the convict is alone and the banks have benefitted from the illegal transaction,” he said.
The judge added that it was not sufficient that the banks only provided the witnesses, through which Maina was convicted.
To him, the two banks’ operating licences ought to have been withdrawn in accordance with the law.
“If the banks had done a due diligence, the 1st defendant (Maina) would not have used those accounts he opened as a conduit pipe,” he said.
Abang said it was disheartening that Maina perpetrated the act which had ruined many homes in the country.(NAN) (www.nannews.ng)