Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo of an Ikeja Special Offences Court, on Wednesday acquitted three staff of the American International Insurance Company Limited, (AIICO) charged with fraud of N1.5 billion
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report that Taiwo, in a ruling in a no-case submission filed by the defendants-Onome Harriet, Olajumoke Akano, Olabode Ogunlere and the Former Managing Director of AIICO, Lanre Fabunmi, who is at large, stated that the three staff had no case to answer.
She held that the prosecution failed to prove the alleged offence against the defendants while ruling on the no-case submission filed by the defendants.
The judge held that during the trial, the right prosecution witness who was an investigator had stated during cross-examination that he never came across any document showing that the defendants and former Managing Director of the company, Mr Lanre Fabunmi met and carried out any illegal act.
She also referred to the evidence of the second prosecution witness who stated that before any payment was made, it must go through its internal control client service and the Managing Director approves.
The court held that none of the defendants had shown to be part of Internal control or hatching a plan to steal from the company with the managing director.
Taiwo said believing the evidence of the prosecution that the defendants got huge sums as sales commission meant they connived with the Managing Director would be speculation on the part of the court.
“Lack of concrete evidence creates doubt in the mind of the court and the court does not act on speculations, let alone conjectures that are ambiguously speculative.
“Suspicion no matter how grave is not evidence and cannot be the basis for conviction of any person in law. Suspicion remains suspicion and cannot graduate to convincing evidence no matter how grave the suspicion can be.
“See the case of Happy Kingsley Idemudia VS The State (2015) LPELR- 24835 (SC). Haruna VS State (2019) LPELR- 47805 (CA).
“It is obvious that the offence of conspiracy to commit an offence will necessarily precede in point of time the offence of the actual commission of the offence to which the conspiracy relates.” She said.
The judge said the prosecution was expected to prove that indeed there was a meeting of minds between the defendants and the MD to commit the offence.
“The myriad of evidence to prove the payment of the sales commission also reveals that the defendants in any capacity did not approve the payment to themselves.
“In final analysis, the case of the prosecution is riddled with speculations, half-truths and insufficient evidence to support the amended information.
“The case of the prosecution was thoroughly whittled down under cross-examination and the remnants of the evidence have not established a case against the defendants warranting the need for them to enter their evidence.
“Consequently, having failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants, the no-case submission made by the defendants is hereby upheld. The defendants are hereby discharged and acquitted,” Taiwo ruled.
NAN reports that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged the defendants on a 22-count amended charge bordering on conspiracy, stealing, and dishonest conversion of funds for purpose of purchasing properties and converting funds belonging to the firm.
The defendants had pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The prosecution team led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, had opened their case and called eight witnesses with several documents tendered as exhibits before they closed their case.
The prosecution had during the trial, told the court the process of sales in the investment arm of AIICO. The first prosecution witness (Eguarekhide Longe) had said that he was working with AIICO Pension.
Longe said the company sold insurance contracts and got money and invested. According to him, the Insurance group deployed a broad agency network to sell insurance contracts and for agency work done, the sales commission was paid to the agent.
He told the court that the sales commission was usually approved by the board and that the Managing Director could sign more than N5million.
Longe further told the court that none of the defendants was a board member or director of the company.
The defendants, through their counsel, Mr Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, SAN, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Dr Muiz Banire, SAN, for first to third defendants respectively, had filed a no-case submission which was argued before the court after the prosecution closed its case.
The defence counsel submitted and drew the court’s attention to the evidence of prosecution witnesses during cross-examination, who agreed that the sales commission paid in 2020 to prove the exact amount stolen by the defendant to establish a prima facie case.
They also argued that the court should consider evidence of prosecution witnesses as well as the exhibits P to see that the defendants never stole or converted money belonging to the company, but they were entitled to the sales commission.
The counsel also argued that none of the prosecution witnesses testified as to the rule prohibiting payment of sales commission to staff.