A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, sentenced the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reformed Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, to eight years imprisonment after being convicted for over N2 billion fraud.
The court presided by Justice Okon Abang, in his ruling held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) successfully proved beyond reasonable doubt its case on all the 12 counts charge in the money laundering suit against the ex-Pension Fund chief.
On October 25, 2019, the anti-graft agency arraigned Maina before Abang, along with a company affiliated to him, Common Input Property and Investment Limited, on 12 counts charge of money laundering and fraud.
Although Maina pleaded not guilty of the charges, he was granted bail. But he jumped on two occasions while the trial lasted. He fled the country to Niamey, Niger Republic, from where he was re-arrested recently by Nigerian security operatives and brought back to continue the trial.
While away, Ali Ndume, a senator, who stood surety for him was briefly jailed for almost a week at the Kuje Correctional Centre before being released on bail.
In his judgment on Monday, Justice Abang said Maina was guilty as charged and sentenced him to 61 years imprisonment cumulatively.
Maina was sentenced to two years in count five; three years in prison on counts 1, 8, 11 and 12; five years in count 2, 6, and 9; eight years in counts 3, 4, 7 and 10.
The judge however ordered that the terms of imprisonment shall run concurrently commencing from October 25, 2019, the date he was arraigned before the court for the offence.
By implication, Abang said although the law prescribed a maximum sentence of 14-years jail term for the offence, he opted to exercise his prerogative of mercy, by imposing the longest term of eight years imprisonment after Maina’s passionate plea for leniency.
The court also ruled that Maina and his company, Common Input Property and Investment Limited, must refund to the Federal Government about N183,568 million and $223,396 dollars, in addition to N314,481 million and N1.82 billion within 90 days.
Besides, the judge ordered that the choice properties at Life Camp and Jabi, Abuja, said to have been acquired with the illegal proceeds of the fraud be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Justice Abang further ruled that his BMW 5 Series exotic car and the bulletproof car should be actioned and the proceed transferred to the Federal Government, while the companies used in perpetrating the fraud should wound up immediately.
In his analysis of the evidence before him, Abang said in his view, it was funding belonging to pensioners, some of who died out of frustration, that Maina stole.
He said the anti-graft agency was able to prove that Maina opened two anonymous accounts in United Bank of Africa (UBA) and five accounts in Fidelity Bank Plc as conduits for his unlawful acts.
Abang said the EFCC witness who testified during the trial showed that Maina, whose monthly salary as a civil servant was about N256,000, could not have had such money running into billions in his accounts, even if he saved all his salaries in his 35 years in service.
He also said the EFCC was able to convict Maina, using his sister-in-law, who is a UBA staff; his blood sister, a civil servant and younger brother, who was a Fidelity Bank staff, among the prosecution witnesses.
The judge said that Maina could not defend himself on the evidence by the fifth prosecution witness he (Maina) gave him about $1.4 million in cash to purchase the property at Life Camp, Abuja valued at N150 million.
The amount in that transaction, the judge noted, was far above the N5million ceiling for such cash transactions for public officers.
Abang condemned the roles of the banks in the fraud by facilitating the opening of the fraudulent accounts, which received deposits by Maina of N300million, N500million and N1.5billion, which were proceeds from the stolen pensioners’ funds.
The judge said it was disheartening that Maina, through the assistance of UBA and Fidelity Bank Plc, deprived the pensioners, who gave their youthful age to serve the country, their legitimate rights.
He wondered why the EFCC did not join UBA and Fidelity Bank Plc as defendants in the case, since they benefitted from the illegal transactions by the convict.
Abang said it was not sufficient that the two banks only provided the witnesses, through which Maina was convicted, their operating licenses ought to have been withdrawn in accordance with the law.
“If the banks had done a due diligence, the 1st defendant (Maina) would not have used those accounts he opened as conduit pipes,” he said.
During the trial, the judge said the EFCC called nine witnesses in all to prove its case against Maina.
Earlier in the judgment, Maina’s lawyer, Olusegun Jolaawo, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), urged the court to temper justice with mercy, as the convict was obviously remorseful.
“He has made some bad decisions for which the court has adjudged him guilty of. But as a human being, he is not infallible and none of us is. For this, we urge you to give him a second chance by not bringing the full weight of the law down on him. With all humility, we urge you to give him the minimum possible punishment,” Jolaawo said.
In his personal plea, Maina apologized for whatever wrongdoing he might have committed and asked for leniency.
“My Lord, I want to apologize for anything I might have done with or without my intention; those adduced to me,” he pleaded.
In his reaction, Abang described the case as the portrayal of the sordid, dirty and immoral decadence of the society we live in, pointing out that the country needed a national rebirth in this country.
He described Maina as “heartless,” having considered the monumental fraud of how the pensioners’ funds, running over N2.1 billion, were stolen by him.
Abang said it was disheartening that Maina perpetrated the act which had ruined many homes in the country.
“The 1st defendant treated the pensioners with levity; some of them have suffered and died,” he held.
“Meanwhile, the convict, far away in Dubai, was buying choice property, living in affluence, driving bulletproof cars far beyond his legitimate earnings.
“This is to send a message to those who are in the act to have a rethink,” he said.
Abang noted that dishonesty was an endemic disease in this country requiring urgent treatment.