Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday sentenced former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) acting Director-General Calistus Obi to seven years imprisonment with an option of N42 million fine.
Mrs Mojisola Olatoregun, presiding judge, on May 23, found him guilty of money laundering and converting the agency’s N136 million to personal use.
She reserved sentencing till yesterday.
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on April 12, 2016, arraigned Obi and a former NIMASA worker, Mr Dismass Adoon, along with two companies, Grand Pact Limited and Global Sea Investment Limited.
After their conviction, the commission urged the court to order forfeiture of assets seized from them and to impose the maximum 14-year jail term in line with Section 15(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
But Olatoregun, while handing down the sentence yesterday, noted that the defendants were top public servants and family men who ought to have appreciated the heavy responsibilities on their shoulders.
She said although non-custodial sentence was an option in view of the fact that “the prisons are not too conducive to human habitation,” the message “should be sent out there…”
The judge sentenced Obi and Adoon to seven years each on counts two, three and four with an option of N7 million fine on each count.
She imposed N10 million fine on the two companies on count five.
Besides, she sentenced Obi alone to seven years each on counts six, seven and eight with an option of N7 million fine each.
Olatoregun said the sentences will run concurrently, meaning they will spend only seven years each should they opt not to pay the fine.
The fine, the judge said, is cumulative, meaning that Obi will pay N42 million, while Adoon will pay N21 million fine.
Olatoregun did not order forfeiture of assets siezed from the convicts, as EFCC prayed.
Prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo had urged the court not to exercise any discretion in the convicts’ favour by handing them the minimum sentence of seven years.
According to him, they let the judge to go through the rigour of full-fledged trial rather than admit their crime and opt for a plea bargain at the beginning.
The EFCC lawyer added that the convicts should be made to refund the public funds they converted to their own use to the Federal Government.
“The first and second defendants converted a total of N111 million to their use. The first, third and fourth defendants converted a total of N114,450,000.
“My lord has the power to order the defendants to return this money or compensate the Federal Government for the funds that they have converted to their use.
“I also seek Your Lordship’s order for the forfeiture of the N30 million recovered from the first defendant by EFCC in the course of investigation,” Oyedepo said.
According to the prosecutor, Obi admitted that he used part of the money he converted to build Ladiva Hotels and Events Limited in Asaba, Delta State capital.
“We urge Your Lordship to forfeit the property to the Federal Government,” Oyedepo said.
But Obi’s counsel Mobolaji Kuti urged Olatoregun to temper justice with mercy as his clients were first-time offenders.
The lawyer said the maximum prison term of 14 years was only reserved for serial offenders.
Kuti said his client was a devout Christian and had served as a local government chairman before joining NIMASA.
He said contrary to EFCC’s claim, Ladiva Hotels and Events was not acquired with proceeds of crime but was a joint venture between Obi and a friend.
He urged the judge not to order its forfeiture to Federal Government.
Obi, a former NIMASA Executive Director of Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, took over from Akpobolokemi, who is also facing multiple money laundering and theft charges.