Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday acquitted former Oyo State Governor Mr Rashidi Ladoja of N4.7billion fraud charge filed against him by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) 11 years ago.
Mr Mohammed Idris, presiding judge, held that the commission did not prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.
He said the prosecution, led by Mr Festus Keyamo, who handed over to his junior, Mr Olabisi Olufemi, failed to prove a single ingredient of the 11-count charge.
Idris, elevated to Court of Appeal last June but concluded the trial through a fiat, found Ladoja and his co-accused not guilty in all the counts.
He faulted prosecution’s handling of the case, saying that EFCC shielded the main culprits from prosecution, while meting out “absolute injustice” to the defendants.
Idris was the third judge to adjudicate on the case after Messers I.M Sanni and A.R. Mohammed.
The case went up to Supreme Court due to interlocutory appeals filed by Ladoja.
EFCC last November 5 re-arraigned Ladoja following an amendment of the charge.
He was charged with his former Commissioner for Finance Mr Waheed Akanbi on 11 counts of money laundering and unlawful conversion of N4.7billion state funds.
In the amended charge, EFCC said Ladoja “compelled” a broker to sell the state’s shares and converted the money to personal use instead of remitting N1.9 billion realised from the sale to the state.
Justice Idris held that the prosecution’s evidence was full of inconsistencies.
“The prosecution was not consistent in the amount of money allegedly missing in the sale of Oyo State’s shares. These contradictions were not explained during the trial,” the judge noted.
According to him, EFCC’s witnesses failed to provide credible evidence in the course of trial.
“The highest burden of proof before getting to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is of course clear and convincing evidence. The case of the prosecution is too low on credible evidence.
“The failure on the part of the prosecution to prove even one count of several ingredients of an offence means it has failed to prove the guilt of the offence beyond all reasonable doubt,” Idris held.
He said EFCC called witnesses who he said ought to have been charged with the alleged offence.
To Idris, Federal Government cannot win the fight against corruption by shielding the corrupt.
His words: “I must state that this country cannot sustain the fight against corruption in the manner in which this case has been prosecuted, where those that should be proper defendants to the case are shielded away from prosecution and kept away from facing the law. This is unacceptable. This is injustice. And this court will not partake in injustice.
“There is no doubt that corruption affects us all. It threatens sustainable economic development, ethical values and justice. Corruption distabilises society and endangers the rule of law. Therefore, there is a need for a fair and just prosecution of criminal cases in the fight against corruption.
“Prosecutors in this fight must be committed to promoting a justice system founded in fairness, equity, compassion and responsibility.
“In the light of all I have said, I find that the prosecution has not established counts 1 to 11 against the defendants herein beyond reasonable doubts.
“I am unable, in the circumstances, to find any of the defendants guilty on any or all of the counts as charged. The first and second defendants are, therefore, hereby discharged and acquitted on all counts.”