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CASE TITLE: SCALES OLATUNJI ISHOLA v. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2021) LPELR-52838(CA)
JUDGMENT DATE: 12th FEBRUARY, 2021
JUSTICES: MOJEED ADEKUNLE OWOADE JCA
JAMES SHEHU ABIRIYI JCA
MUHAMMED LAWAL SHUAIBU JCA
PRACTICE AREA: Jurisdiction – Territorial Jurisdiction
The Appellant had been arrested by officials of the Economics and Financial Crimes Commission for allegations bordering on cybercrimes and money laundering related offences. Subsequently, the Appellant applied for bail in the trial Court on the grounds that he had a medical condition in form of a visual impairment that required monthly visits to his optician.
In refusing the application, the trial Court held that the Appellant failed to place sufficient facts before the Court to warrant the grant of the application for bail and that the nature of the charge does not tilt the balance of convenience in favour of the application.
Dissatisfied, the Appellant appealed.
On appeal, the Appellant raised the issue of the lack of jurisdiction of the trial court on the ground that the matter was outside the purview of its territorial jurisdiction since the acts alleged to be committed by the Appellant were carried out in Lagos and not Akwa Ibom State where the matter was being prosecuted.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION:
The Court determined the appeal on the following issues:
“1. Whether the discretionary powers of the trial Court were exercised judicially and judiciously in refusing to admit the appellant on bail?
- Whether the trial Court is forum non conveniens for the trial of the appellant herein in respect of the offences charged?”
Appellant’s Counsel submitted that since none of the criminal charges proffered against the Appellant took place in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State but in Lagos, the trial Court is not the proper forum and thus, lacks the jurisdiction to try the said charge. Counsel was of the opinion that the territorial jurisdiction of the Court to prosecute a criminal matter is rooted in the place of the commission of the offence and a Court where the alleged commission of the offence did not take place cannot be supplanted with jurisdiction to prosecute the matter.
Respondent’s Counsel contended that since 39 out of the 45 counts of the charge the appellant is standing trial for are cybercrime offences which can be tried anywhere in Nigeria by virtue of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition Prevention etc) Act, 2015, the remaining 6 counts relating to Money Laundering offences become derivate or predicate offences which require underlying illicit acts or offences. He submitted that this means the trial Court possessed the requisite territorial jurisdiction to prosecute the matter.
On the whole, the Court found no merit in the appeal and accordingly dismissed same.
JURISDICTION – TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION: Whether there is a relationship between Cybercrimes and money laundering offences that a Court with territorial jurisdiction to try one can in the same vein try the other –
“… Now the next fundamental question that rears its head in the instant case is which division of the Federal High Court has the territorial jurisdiction to try the appellant on the offence(s) in counts 1 – 5 of the charge? The said counts 1 – 5 of the charge are offences for Money Laundering contrary to Sections 18 (a) and 15 (2) (b) and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 as amended. Money Laundering is simply the concealment of the origins of illegally obtained money by means of transfers usually involving banks or other legitimate businesses. Learned counsel for the respondent has submitted and I agree with his submission that money laundering is a derivative offence which implies that for the money to be laundered, a basic criminal activity must have taken place. Hence, there is a relationship between other financial crimes and money laundering. The methods used to launder proceeds of crime and other criminal activity though complex but it usually involves three stages namely, placement, layering and integration. Unlike the provision of Section 50 (1) of the Cybercrime Act that vested territorial jurisdiction on any Federal High Court regardless of the location where the cybercrime is committed; Section 20(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 as amended provides for the general jurisdiction of the Federal High Court wherein it states as follows:
“20(1) – The Federal High Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to try offences under this Act.”
In NYAME V. F.R.N. (2010) 7 NWLR (pt 1193) 344 and DARIYE V. F.R.N. (supra), it was held that the best way to resolve the issue of proper venue of trial is to identify the offence(s) charged and elements of same as contained in the proof of evidence so as to determine whether any of the acts constituting the offence occurred in the particular place where the accused is being tried. Counts 1 – 5 of the charge with which the appellant in this appeal is standing trial before the trial Court is hereunder reproduced hereunder as follows . . . From the above, it is clear that the offence(s) in counts 1 – 5 above are not stated to have been committed or occurred in any particular location in Nigeria and applying the principle enunciated by the Supreme Court in the case of MUHAMMAD DELE BELGORE V. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (supra); recourse has to be made to the proof of evidence in order to bridge the yawning gap. The proof of evidence in the case at hand includes petitions or complaints emanating from Norwegian and Danish National police. Part of the complaints read as follows . . . Consequent to the above, the Norwegian Police requested the assistance of the EFCC to conduct a coordinated investigation to identify and arrest the perpetrators in Nigeria and to seize assets that can be confiscated for the Norwegian and/ or Nigerian treasury. Also included in the proof of evidence is the EFCC internal memo showing that intelligence on some Nigerian Fraudsters have inflicted havoc and financial losses running into millions of dollars on businesses in Norway, Denmark, Finland and Austria involving a group led by the appellant herein. I have highlighted the complex nature of money laundering offences particularly as in this case where the methods allegedly employed involved international transactions. In contrast to the case of MUHAMMED DELE BELGORE V. F.R.N (Supra) where the sum of N450 Million Naira was disbursed to various persons in Ilorin without going through a financial institution, the allegations in counts 1 – 5 of the charge against the appellant and his cohorts reveals that they conspired and transferred proceeds of crimes into their various accounts in Nigeria. Thus, fixing these transactions that are not physical by their nature to a particular location in Nigeria is practically impossible. To that extent, the trial Federal High Court will undoubtedly be a forum convenience for the trial of the appellant. Furthermore, since there is apparent connection or relation between both the predicate Cybercrimes charged with the derivative money laundering offences, the Court with territorial jurisdiction to try the conjoined or related offence shall in the same vein try other offence that are so connected. By virtue of Section 45 (c) of the Federal High Court, when an act is an offence by reason of its relation to any other act which is also an offence, the charge of the first-mentioned offence may be tried by a Court exercising jurisdiction in the area or place either in which it happened, or in which the offence with which it was so connected happened. Thus, considering the fact that both the cybercrimes and money laundering happened in Nigeria and that they are so connected with one another; the trial Court is also a forum convenience for the trial of the appellant for the money laundering offences charged.”