The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has urged the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal to declare the pardon granted to Indian businessman Ashok Israni and two others by the Lagos State government unconstitutional, null, and void. The move comes as the three individuals, Israni and officials of Keystone Bank, Anayo Nwosu and Olajide Oshodi, seek to quash their conviction over an N855 million fraud.
During the appeal, the EFCC’s counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, argued that a pardon cannot be granted to convicts whose appeal rights have not been exhausted, citing many legal authorities. Jacobs also argued that the purported pardon had stripped the appellate court of its jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The panel of judges hearing the case includes Justice Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh (Presiding), Justice Ebiowei Tobi, and Justice B. I. Gafai.
In December 2019, Justice Kudirat Jose of the Lagos State High Court in Igbosere sentenced Israni, Nwosu, and Oshodi to five years in prison each for stealing on an amended 15-count charge bordering on conspiracy and obtaining money by false pretense. The judge also convicted Israni’s NULEC Industries Limited and Keystone Bank Limited, in her judgment. The company and the bank were ordered to pay a fine of N20 million to the Federal Government on counts 1, 10, and 13. The convicts were also ordered to restitute the sum of N395 million to the victim of the fraud.
Four months after their conviction, officials of the Kirikiri Centre of the Nigerian Correctional Services (NCoS) released Israni, Nwosu, and Oshodi from prison on the Lagos State Government’s purported pardon, despite the pendency of their appeals before the upper court.
During the hearing on Thursday, Jacobs (SAN) adopted his brief of argument dated April 27, 2023. They submitted that there are several legal authorities to the effect that pardon cannot be granted to convicts whose rights of appeal have not been exhausted. He urged the court to declare the purported pardon ‘illegal’ since the appellants’ appeals had been filed and entered since February 13, 2020. However, it could not be heard due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forestalled judicial activities.
The EFCC further claimed that immediately after one of the appellants, Anayo Nwosu, was released, he allegedly made many publications on social media platforms stating that he was wrongly convicted, jailed, and maltreated because of the whims and caprices of the Nominal Complainant.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Biodun Owonikoko (SAN), the counsel to the appellants, adopted their briefs of arguments and urged the court to allow the appeal, set aside the judgment of the lower court, and acquit all the appellants of all the charges filed against them. In his submissions, Chief Olanipekun informed the court that the appellants had filed an affidavit of facts containing the instrument of the pardon granted to them by the Lagos State government, stating that it was the state that charged them to court. The State granted them bail due to the upsurge in COVID-19.
The case has been reserved for judgment by Justice Ikyegh. The EFCC’s challenge of the pardon granted to the convicted Indian businessman and his associates in Lagos aims to quash their conviction for fraud, and its outcome is awaited with anticipation.