A state High Court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, has discharged and acquitted a lawyer of fraud.

The lawyer, Imo Akpan, was arrested in 2015 by some operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He was handcuffed and taken from Uyo to Lagos in a commercial flight.

The EFCC later, in 2015, arraigned Mr Akpan, in a well-publicised case, on a two-count charge of obtaining money under false pretence and stealing, which the judge, Archibong Archibong, said the anti-graft agency was unable to prove.

PREMIUM TIMES has just received a copy of the court judgement delivered on January 20, 2021.

Mr Akpan was accused of collecting N20 million in an alleged sale of a filling station in Uyo in 2012 and converting the money to his own use.

According to the EFCC, the filling station was owned by Triple Tower Petroleum Resources Ltd, a business firm that belongs to the defendant’s uncle, whom the agency said went to the filling station and drove away the new buyers – Goodworks Associated Services Ltd – and told them he never authorised the defendant to sell the filling station.

Goodworks Associated Services Ltd allegedly paid the N20 million as a down payment for the purchase of the filling station said to have been priced at N35 million.

The company was yet to pay the balance of the money.

The EFCC called five witnesses and tendered some documents in the trial. The defendant did not call any witness.

The EFCC operative, who investigated the case, for instance, admitted to the court, during cross examination by the defence lawyer, Fidel Albert, that he did not extend his investigation to the Triple Tower Petroleum Resources Ltd, the owners of the filling station, even when the anti-graft agency accused the lawyer of falsely claiming to represent the firm in the alleged sale of the filling station.

The operative also admitted to the court that if Triple Tower Petroleum Resources Ltd actually authorised the defendant to sell the filling station, then it would not have been proper to say he acted under false pretence, which the EFCC charged him for.

Interestingly, the EFCC was in possession of a board resolution by Triple Tower Petroleum Resources Ltd, authorising the defendant, Mr Akpan, to dispose of the filling station to enable the firm pay off a bank loan, and yet the agency failed to verify if the document was genuine or not.

“Having not proved that Exhibit H (the board resolution) was false, one wonders how the EFCC came to the conclusion that the defendant was not appointed by Triple Tower Petroleum Resources Ltd as its agent in the sale of its said filling station,” Justice Archibong said in his ruling.

The court said the defendant’s confessional statement presented by the EFCC was obtained under duress and, therefore, was rejected as an exhibit in the trial.

During cross examination, Kufre Nelson, the EFCC star witness and the man who filed the complaint that brought about the charge, denied that he was the owner of the N20 million.

“With the failure to prove that very important ingredient of the offence of obtaining by false pretence as the defendant stands charged before this court, the other ingredients automatically failed also.

“Specifically, from the totality of the evidence of the prosecution in this case it has not been shown that the defendant obtained the sum of N20 million from Kufre Nelson, rather it is shown that the money was paid by Goodworks Associated Services Ltd, and Goodworks Associated Services Ltd has not complained that the defendant obtained money from it under any false pretence,” the judge held.

Continuing, the judge said, “On the whole and in the light of the totality of the evidence adduced by the prosecution in this case, it is very clear and beyond dispute that the prosecution has failed to prove its case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt, as required of it by law.

“For that reason, therefore, this charge fails in its entirety, it is dismissed and the defendant is found not guilty as charged and he is accordingly discharged and acquitted in counts I and II of the charge against him.”

Usman Shehu prosecuted the case on behalf of the EFCC.

The defendant’s lawyer, Mr Albert, told PREMIUM TIMES, Thursday, “We decided that their case was too weak that it can’t fly, so we refused to call any witness.

“In fact, we rested our case on the case of the prosecution which was a very risky thing. We were very confident, and at the end of it the court agreed with us.

“Not that they didn’t have evidence, all the evidence they tendered and the witnesses, under cross examination, exonerated Imo (the defendant),” he said.

Defendant speaks

The defendant, Mr Akpan, said the court judgement has vindicated him after a “harrowing experience for the past six years.”

“My client had no problem whatsoever with my conduct,” Mr Akpan told PREMIUM TIMES.

“So it was more or less a third party that has now come to say you did not remit money to your client, whereas my client is there, sitting pretty and was never questioned, was never interrogated (by the EFCC).”

He said he was not going to seek redress.

“I have been vindicated not because I am without fault, but because God in his mercy has given me another opportunity.

“I forgive every person that has been part of this harrowing experience for the past six years,” he said.

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