BEVERLY HILLS, March 16, (THEWILL) – A former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market, Mr. Herman Hembe, who was charged with converting an estimated N600,000 given to him by the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, for him to travel to the Dominican Republic, for a refresher conference in October 2011 has been discharged and acquited.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja discharged and acquited him in a unanimous decision which upheld the argument of Mr Jilbrin Okutepa (SAN) to the effect that Hembe did not commit any offence to warrant his trial.
Justice Joseph Tine-Tur who delivered the lead judgment faulted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), saying what the anti-graft agency did was not prosecution but persecution.
He also held that the proof of evidence and the evidence given by the witnesses called by EFCC did not establish a prima facie case against Hembe.
The court also said that the high court judge who granted leave to EFCC to begin Hembe’s prosecution erred and should not have granted such leave.
He described Hembe’s trial as a waste of precious judicial time.
Tine-Tur therefore dismissed the charges as he discharged and acquitted Hembe.
Hembe and his deputy, Chris Azubogu, were charged with alleged conversion of estacodes given to them by SEC to travel abroad for a conference.
They had repeatedly maintained their innocence but the Abuja High Court which tried them at the behest of EFCC disagreed with them and dismissed their application to quash the charges.
But on Friday, the Appeal Court agreed with Hembe as it held that they did not commit an offence.
The court held that at best, what transpired was an administrative oversight for which Hembe could have been asked to refund the estacodes.
EFCC had re-arraigned Hembe and his deputy on offences bordering on alleged conversion into personal use, an estimated N600,000 being money allegedly released by the SEC, for them to travel to the Dominican Republic, for a refresher conference in October 2011.
The offence, according to the anti-graft agency, was contrary toSection 308 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 2004, and punishable under Section 309 of the same code.
The two-count charge reads: “That you Hon. Iorwase Herman Hembe, sometime in October 2011 in Abuja within the Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, dishonestly converted to your own use the sum of $4,095, being money given to you by SEC as your travelling allowance to PUNCTA CANA, Dominican Republic, to attend aconference which you did not attend and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 308 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja)2004 and punishable under section 309 of the same code.
“That you Hon. Azubogu Chris Emeka Ifeanyi sometime in October 2011 in Abuja within the Judi-cial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capi-tal Territory dishonestly converted to your own use the sum of $4,095, being money given to you by SEC as your travelling allowance to PUNCTA CANA, Dominican Repub-lic to attend a conference which you did not attend and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 308 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 2004 and punishable under section 309 of the same code.”
However, Hembe and Azubuogu had,in oral separate submissions by their respective counsel – Messrs Jibrin Okutepa, SAN, and Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN – entered a “no case submission” to the charge preferred against them.
Hembe said there was only one issue for determination which is: “whether from the totality of the evidence before this honourable court, the complainant has made out a prima facie case against the accused persons to answer.”
He argued further that, “To ask the first accused person to enter into his defence will require him to prove his innocence”, saying, “this is contrary to the presumption of innocence enshrined in S. 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.”
In dismissing the oral applications trial judge, Justice Peter Kekemeke, held that the prosecution succeeded in establishing a prima facie case against the duo,to warrant their being put to trial.
Justice Kekemeke stated that the proof of evidence beforre the court, was persuasive enough to move the court to consider,painstakingly,the two-count charge against the accused persons.