By Lukman Olabiyi

The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has upheld the judgement of Justice Kudirat Jose of the Lagos State High Court, who sentenced two officials of Keystone Bank, Anayo Nwosu and Olajide Oshodi, to five years imprisonment over an N855m fraud.

The Appeal Court, in a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Folasade Ayodeji Ojo, dismissed the separate appeals filed by Nwosu and Oshodi against their conviction for lacking in merit.

In the judgment endorsed by the two other members of the panel Justices, Justice Olukayode Bada and Justice Paul Bassi, the appellate court resolved the three issues formulated for determination in favour of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Justice Jose had, on December 9, 2019, sentenced Nwosu and Oshodi to five years imprisonment on an amended 15-count charge of conspiracy and obtaining money by false pretence brought against them by the EFCC.

The Judge had sentenced them to five years imprisonment, each on counts 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10 and 13 of stealing.

Justice Jose had also convicted an Indian businessman, Ashok Israni, his company NULEC Industries Limited and Keystone Bank Limited, in her judgment.

The company and the bank were ordered to pay a fine of N20 million to the Federal Government on counts one, 10 and 13.

But dissatisfied with the lower court’s verdict, the duo had approached the upper court arguing that their right to a fair hearing was breached because the Further Amended Charge was introduced after the close of evidence.

They also argued that the lower court went outside its jurisdiction by exceeding the maximum punishment prescribed by Section 390 of the Lagos State Criminal Code Law, Cap. 17, Vol. 2, Laws of Lagos State under which they were charged.

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The appellants also contended that the entire transactions leading to their conviction were purely civil and between third parties different from him.

But the EFCC, through its lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs, argued that appellants did not challenge the Further Amended Charge during the trial and that the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State permits the court to sentence a convict up to 5 years imprisonment if the thing stolen is worth N1,000.

In her Judgment, Justice Ojo held that the tríal Court complied with the procedure laid down by law to be followed when a charge is amended and that there is no merit in the appellants’ argument that the amendment to the charge breached their right to a fair hearing.

The Justice also held that the amount involved in the charge is more than one thousand naira and that it contained criminal allegations of “Stealing by conversion, publishing of false statement, etc., which are offences clearly defined under the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State.”

She also stated, “I have carefully examined the appeal record, and I agree with the lower court that the ingredients of Counts 1 and 3 of the Amended Information were established by the first Respondent (EFCC).

“It is not in doubt that the Appellants introduced the private placement of the shares of the fourth Respondent (Keystone Bank) to the 11th prosecution witness (Complainant), which made him part with a considerable sum of money.

“I firmly believe that the Appellants squarely come within the definition of a promoter as contemplated under Section 436(b) of the Criminal Code Law, and I so hold.

“The Appellants induced PW11 (Complainant) into this transaction, over which their Bank commended them. I resolved this issue against the Appellants as the lower Court was correct to have convicted and sentenced the Appellants on Counts 10 & 13 of the Amended Information.

“Having resolved all the three issues in this appeal against the Appellants, the inevitable coňclusion is that the appeal lacks merit and deserves to be dismissed. The instant appeal is dismissed for lack of merit. The Judgment of the High Court of Lagos State, Ikeja Judicial Division in SUIT NO. ID/112C/2012 is at this moment affirmed,” Justice Ojo held.