Oil Subsidy Trial: Defendant Can’t be Sentenced in Absentia – Court


Mrs Ada Ugo-Ngali, the Managing Director of Ontario Oil and Gas Limited, and  co-defendant  Mr. Walter Wagbatsoma, the Chairman of the company, standing trial for N1.9 billion oil subsidy fraud, were absent in court on Monday.

It would be recalled that Ugo-Ngali was rushed to hospital on Friday after slumping in the dock when her sentence was about to be read out by Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja forcing the Judge to adjourn to Monday for sentencing.

Okunnu had found Wagbatsoma and Ugo-Ngadi guilty of an eight–count charge bordering on conspiracy, obtaining property by false pretences, forgery and uttering brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The conviction of the duo is the first of its kind since the prosecution of oil subsidy fraud began in 2012.

Wagbatsoma has been in recent months absent in court as he was reportedly held by the Interpol during a trip to Germany on June 6, 2016.

He is currently being held in the United Kingdom on charges relating to a 12 million pounds National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Trust Fund fraud.

At the resumed hearing, a medical certificate was presented to the court by the defence counsel indicating that Mrs Ugo-Ngali was still hospitalized. Counsel to the EFCC Mr Rotimi Jacob on the other hand gave an account of what had transpired between Friday and Monday with regards to Ugo-Ngali’s medical condition.

Jacob said: “On Friday when the convict left the court, she was taken to a private clinic which the prison officials were not comfortable with.

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“Information that I got was that she was doing well and men of the EFCC were there to watch her from Friday to Sunday.

“Her private doctor had assured us that she would be discharged on Saturday but she was transferred to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) on Sunday.

“My Lordship should take this medical report on its face value, the co-convict (Wagbatsoma) took off to Germany despite the fact that there are able medical doctors here.

“This might be a ploy to avoid going to prison, the prison officials said that since the convict is in a government hospital, the men of the EFCC should withdraw and they did.”

The EFCC prosecutor urged the judge to make an order for an independent assessment and pronounce a sentence in respect of the company.

Counsel to Ugo-Ngali, Mr Y.A Kadiri, however, opposed Counsel to EFCC’s reference to his client as a convict.

“Before the law, my client is still a defendant and not a convict.

“I have read through Section 278 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) and it does not seem to make provisions for sentencing where the defendants are not present in court,” he told the court.

Justice Okunnu noted the lacuna in the law and held that since Ugo-Ngali who is a representative of Ontario Oil and Gas Ltd  was not in court, she would not sentence the company in absentia. She went ahead to order that:

“The medical report from Havana Specialist Hospital dated Jan. 15, 2017 must be accompanied with an affidavit sworn to by the medical director of the hospital.

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“The medical attendant at LASUTH must swear to an affidavit as to her medical condition, the affidavits must be filed within a day.

“The Commissioner of Police is hereby directed to keep her under watch.”

The case has been adjourned to Jan. 18 for sentencing hearing.

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