If a report by Daily Trust is anything to go by, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has dropped all 14 count charges against former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.

The EFCC was also said to have dropped the charges against Ben Otti, Nnamdi Okonkwo, Stanley Lawson, Lanre Adesanya, and Dauda Lawal, all of whom are former officials of commercial banks and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Since 2015, Diezani has been dogged by a series of corruption allegations, including the alleged diversion and distribution of N23 billion.

A source who's familiar with the $153 million transaction, said Dauda Lawal,  who's a former Executive Director of First Bank, had no contact with Diezani and was only acting on the instruction of a customer. [Sahara Reporters]
A source who's familiar with the $153 million transaction, said Dauda Lawal, who's a former Executive Director of First Bank, had no contact with Diezani and was only acting on the instruction of a customer. [Sahara Reporters]

The former minister has also been holed up in the United Kingdom where she also faces a separate probe for alleged bribery, corruption, and money laundering.

From then till date, the EFCC has obtained court rulings that have ordered the forfeiture of properties and funds linked to the former minister.

At the resumed hearing of the matter before Justice Muslim Hassan of a Federal High Court Lagos on November 5, 2019, the anti-graft agency, through its lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, dropped the corruption charges against most of the accused persons, including Diezani, through an amended four-count charge.

The amended charges, which border on money laundering, now only seeks to prosecute Lawal, a former Executive Director of First Bank Plc, alongside Diezani and Otti, who served as Group Executive Director of Finance at the NNPC.

Diezani and Otti have both reportedly been at large since the beginning of the matter which was first filed in court on November 28, 2018.

Similarly, Nnamdi, Stanley, and Lanre, all did not make any appearance in court and have not been arraigned.

In what appeared like a twist at the resumed hearing of the matter, a source close to Lawal, who noted that the former Executive Director of First Bank did not fail to appear in court in all adjourned dates of the matter, was shocked that all other accused persons have been exonerated.

In a statement later released by the EFCC following reactions to this story, the anti-graft agency said it took a prosecutorial decision to split the initial 14-count charges to enable separate arraignment of the defendants.

This, the agency said, was necessary because of a spate of adjournments that prevented the arraignment of the defendants more than one year after the case was listed.

"It was clear that these recurring excuses were ploys to frustrate the arraignment. To get around this, the Commission took a deliberate decision, which was disclosed in open court, to separately prosecute the defendants in different courts," the agency's spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, said.

The EFCC also noted that the non-inclusion of other defendants in the original charge in the amended four-count charges does not mean that they have been exonerated of any criminal allegation.

The EFCC had in the 14 count-charge accused the bank executives and the NNPC officials of conspiring to conceal $153 million in Fidelity bank, which they ought to have known were proceeds of corruption punishable under the Money Laundering Act.

In 2015, the EFCC discovered that the $153 million was deposited, to allegedly fund the presidential second term campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The matter was investigated by the EFCC and the bankers were alleged to have conspired with Diezani and other NNPC officials to conceal and distribute parts of the fund.

Lawal was accused of assisting Diezani to purchase a property, Merdien Hotel Ogeyi Palace in Port Harcourt, when he received $25 million from Fidelity Bank and deposited the same amount with Sterling Bank, allegedly on the instruction of Stanley.