Shamsudeen Bala, the son of Bauchi Governor Bala Mohammed, was cleared of the N1.1 billion fraud charge by the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had filed a 20-count charge against Bala that appeared to be related to money laundering.
However, the trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, partially upheld Bala’s submission by dismissing 11 of the 20 charges brought against him in an earlier ruling on a no case submission delivered on Dec. 14, 2021.
Bala was left to defend himself against charges of identity fraud, forgery, and failure to disclose to the EFCC certain of his bank accounts and the amount in them.
In contrast, Justice Dimgba’s ruling on Tuesday stated that the EFCC had not proven the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
On the allegations that the defendant forged signatures and documents to access illegal funds, the judge said the anti-graft agency’s forensic expert did not provide sufficient evidence to prove the charge.
“The law is settled that in a charge of forgery it is essential to prove that the accused person forged the document in question.
“An allegation that a document is forged is a criminal allegation that must be proved beyond reasonable doubt and not by speculation.’’
The judge held that the burden of proof rested on the prosecution, adding that it did not discharge the burden beyond reasonable doubt.
“The question therefore is on a holistic consideration of the evidence led by the prosecution, can it be said that there is evidence sufficient to lead the court to the conclusion that the defendant is guilty of the offence contained in the surviving counts 11 to 19?
“ Looking at the case being made out as a whole in the light of the entirety of the evidence adduced on both sides, it appears to me that there are very reasonable doubts thrown up in the case.
“This will make it very difficult for any reasonable tribunal to proceed to find the defendant guilty of the charge in counts 11 to 19 on the strength of the evidence available.
“In the final analysis, having reviewed all that has been provided, I am not convinced that the prosecution have discharged the burden placed on them by law to prove the guilt of the defendant beyond reasonable doubt on any of the remaining 9 counts of the charge.
According to the judge, reasonable doubts do exist in the prosecution’s case as made out in the body of this opinion.
“As the law commands, I am bound to resolve the doubts in favour of the defence and I so resolve them.
“In consequence, I find the defendant as being not guilty in all of counts 11 to 19, and consequently discharge and acquit him.
The judge opined that the gamut of the prosecution’s case on the whole charge was hinged on the theory of the alleged corrupt enrichment through the defendant’s illegal and clandestine dealings in property in the Federal Capital Territory.
The judge also ordered the prosecution to refund to the defendant N580,000 and 60,000 dollars as well as other items taken from his apartment in the course of executing the search warrant on his apartment.
Speaking to newsmen, after the judgment, the prosecuting counsel, Mr Wahab Shittu, SAN, said the trial court proceedings was just the first leg of the legal battle as there was ample opportunity to proceed on appeal.
The News Agency of Nigeria, (NAN) reports that the EFCC had on Feb. 1, 2017, arraigned Bala on charges of money laundering and others.
Part of the flagged transactions took place in the twilight of the tenure of Bala’s father, Bala Mohammed, as then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The senior Bala was himself facing corruption charges in a different case until he gained immunity after he was elected Governor of Bauchi State in May 2019.
The EFCC alleged that the younger Bala made payments of huge sums in cash for the purchase of properties in different parts of Abuja without going through a financial institution.
The anti-graft agency called 11 prosecution witnesses and tendered 57 documentary exhibits to prove the charges while the defence called two witnesses.
Bala filed a no-case submission, urging the court to dismiss the charges for not establishing a prima facie case. (NAN)