The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, discharged Rochas Okorocha, a former Governor of Imo, of N2.9 billion fraud charges brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Inyang Ekwo, in his ruling struck out the charges for violating section 105 (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, which grants the Attorney-General of the Federation the authority to recall a case.
The ruling was on a preliminary application filed by Mr Okorocha. EFCC had yet to begin calling witnesses as of the time the judge ended the case on Monday.
Justice Ekwo said the directive of the AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, in a letter dated 12 September 2022, to the EFCC to forward the case file with its comments on the issues for consideration and review, was binding on the commission.
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“All that the law required of the respondent (EFCC) was for the respondent when directed by the HAGF (Honourable Attorney General of the Federation), pursuant to any enactment, is to comply and not act as if it is not under the law or is exempted thereby.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the office of the HAGF is founded on the provisions of the constitution and is thereby preserved.
“The controversies and drama surrounding this trial proceeding is needless and it is time to stop it,” he said.
The judge further held that from the moment the AGF gave the directive to the EFCC, the commission ceased to have the legal authority to prosecute or continue the prosecution of the case.
“In other words, the intervention of the HAGF in any criminal proceedings ends the authority of the prosecuting agency in the matter unless otherwise directed by the HAGF.
“In the end, I find that non-compliance by the respondent with the directive of the HAGF as stated in Exhibit Okorocha 7 is fatal to this proceeding and has rendered it a nullity.
“The respondent is not empowered by any law to continue with this proceeding after the HAGF issued the directive in Exhibit Okorocha 7.
“With Exhibit Okorocha 7, it is only the HAGF that can decide whether or not to charge the defendants upon the case file being remitted to his office as directed,” he added.
Besides, Justice Ekwo agreed with the defendants that the earlier judgement of a court of coordinate jurisdiction sitting in Port Harcourt in suit number: FHC/PH/FHR/165, between Mr Okorocha and EFCC, restraining the agency from further proceeding on the alleged offence had not been set aside.