Cecilia Osipitan, wife of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was on Friday admitted to bail by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja in the sum of N200 million, with a surety in the like sum.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had arraigned Mrs. Osipitan and her company, PJO Ventures Limited, on a nine-count charge of money laundering to the tune of N6 billion.
Justice Ekwo had on March 22 fixed Friday March 26 for the arraignment following the complaint by the defence counsel that they were yet to see the charge in the matter owing to the fact that the defendant was only served the previous day before the planned arraignment.
The EFCC is the complainant, while Osipitan and her company are first and second defendants respectively in the charge.
Osipitan was alleged to have received the money through her company, PJO Ventures Limited, to acquire choice properties in parts of the country.
Although the EFCC counsel, Benjamin Manji, opposed the application for bail filed by counsel to the defendant, Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), Justice Ekwo granted the bail on discretion, taking cognisance the competing rights of the parties.
The judge ordered that the surety must be a responsible citizen who has a landed property worth the bail sum within the jurisdiction of the court and that its documents be submitted to the court registrar.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Justice Ekwo also directed Osipitan to deposit her travel passport with the court registrar, and ruled that the defendant should not travel outside the court jurisdiction or abroad pending the determination of the matter.
The judge, who allowed Osipitan to remain under the written undertaking of her counsel pending the perfection of her bail conditions, held that should the defendant fail to meet the bail terms by March 31, she should be taken to the EFCC’s custody.
He adjourned the matter until May 24, May 25 and May 26 for commencement of trial.
The EFCC said the offence of criminal breach of trust contravenes the provisions of Section 15(2)(d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (As amended) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.
A statement in support of the defendants, however, absolved them of any blame.
The statement, which was in reaction to the suit by the EFCC, said: “In December 2014, the Ministry of Finance through the office of the Accountant-General awarded a contract to Bestworth Insurance Brokers (“Bestworth”), to pay compensation to disabled ex-employees of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (“PHCN”). PJO Ventures Ltd (“PJO Ventures”) was appointed by Bestworth to assist with executing the mandate; Mrs. Cecilia Osipitan is a Director in PJO Ventures. At all material times, PJO Ventures had a contract with Bestworth and not the Federal Government of Nigeria. Nevertheless, PJO Ventures was diligently fulfilling its contract by paying out compensation to disabled ex-employees of PHCN, per the terms of its appointment letter.
“Sometime in 2016, while the contract was ongoing, EFCC officials surfaced to probe the contract. The Commission alleged that there were irregularities by government officials in awarding of the contract. The Commission also seized various sums of money and assets from PJO Ventures, despite the fact that: (i) PJO Ventures and Mrs Cecilia Osipitan are neither government officials/entities nor were they involved in the process of awarding the contract; (ii) PJO Ventures’ contract was with Bestworth, not the Federal Government of Nigeria and (iii) PJO Ventures furnished cogent proof to the EFCC of its due execution of the said contract.
“Sequel to seizing the monies/assets of PJO Ventures, the EFCC approached the Federal High Court, Abuja for permanent forfeiture. The Commission alleged that these monies/assets were proceeds of crime. However, the Federal High Court in June 2018, ruled that the monies/assets of PJO Ventures could not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government. The Court held that they stemmed from a legitimate contract between PJO Ventures and Bestworth and were not proceeds of crime. Therefore, the Court refused the EFCC’s request for permanent forfeiture of monies/assets belonging to PJO Ventures, which the Commission previously seized.
“To our greatest surprise, the EFCC filed a criminal charge in January 2021, against PJO Ventures and Mrs Cecilia Osipitan, alleging money laundering and criminal conversion. It remains our position that there was no crime/wrongdoing committed by PJO Ventures or Mrs. Cecilia Osipitan. PJO Ventures was awarded a contract by Bestworth, to pay out compensation to disabled ex-employees of PHCN. PJO Ventures was duly executing this mandate, before it was brought to an abrupt halt by the EFCC. Moreover, the Federal High Court ruled that the contract between PJO Ventures and Bestworth was bonafide; that PJO ventures was duly executing this contract, and that the monies/assets belonging to PJO Ventures are not proceeds of crime.”