FRN vs Usoro: Failure of EFCC to Produce Document Stalls Trial

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Hearing in the charges filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Paul Usoro SAN was stalled today by the failure of the Prosecution; EFCC to produce certain documents required by the Defence counsel for the continuation of trial.

The suit came up today before Honourable Justice Aikawa of the Federal High Court Lagos for the cross examination of the Prosecution’s witness (PW1) and was subsequently adjourned at the instance of the EFCC who undertook to produce the documents at the next adjourned date.

According to the Defence Counsel Chief Offiong Offiong SAN, the documents are statements made by two key EFCC witnesses (Wills Obong and Irene Akpabio) which are necessary for the cross examination of PW1. In his submission, he informed the Honourable Court that a Subpoena and Notice to Produce were issued to the EFCC since July 3, 2019. He submitted that it would be impossible to discredit some of the claims made by PW1 during her examination in Chief, without the two statements made to the EFCC by the two individuals.

Chief Offiong SAN further argued that it is the constitutional right of the Defendant to be given adequate time and facilities required for the preparation of his defence and urged that refusing the Defence access to the said documents would amount to a breach of his constitutional right.

Reacting to the above submission, the lead Prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo argued that the provision of the constitution that a defendant must be given adequate time and facility to defend himself is not a blank cheque. He submitted that the extra judicial statements of  Irene Akpabio and Wills Obong are statements peculiar to them and which cannot be relied upon to examine another witness. He then urged the court to discountenance the Defence Counsel’s submission and proceed with the trial.

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The Court considered the submission of both counsel and held that the Defence gave the EFCC ample notice and time to produce the documents. He further noted that the argument of the Prosecution that extra judicial statement of a witness is peculiar to such witness bothers on the probative value to be attached to a document and does not address the issue raised by the Defence Counsel. The court then held: “…if I reach such conclusion, it would be prejudicial to the Defendant. The Prosecution argument bothers on probative value, what the Defence is asking is for you to explain the where about of the documents. In my view, the Prosecution created the ground for the delay in today’s proceeding. I will have no choice than to adjourn the suit to enable the Prosecution provide the document.”

Mr. Usoro SAN is standing trial for receiving professional fees charged by his firm, Paul Usoro & Co from the Akwa Ibom State Government and Governor Udom Emmanuel which the EFCC alleges that he ought to have known  “forms part of the proceeds of unlawful act”. A timely completion of this suit would afford lawyers a clearer understanding of what steps to take while receiving professional fees from clients.

Chief Offiong Offiong SAN led 13 other Counsel to appear for the Defendant while Rotimi Oyedepo led 2 other counsel for the Prosecution. The case was further adjourned to 9th March, 2020 for continuation of trial.

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