Lagos - A Lagos High Court in Ikeja on Wednesday dismissed an application by two oil marketers, Aro Bamidele and Abiodun Bankole, asking it to quash the fuel subsidy fraud charge against them.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on Oct. 5, 2012 arraigned the marketers alongside their company-- A.B.S Investment Company Ltd., before Justice Lateefat Okunnu.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the defendants landed in court for allegedly obtaining N1.3 billion from the Federal Government for the purported importation of 30 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).
Okunnu , while ruling on the Preliminary Notice of Objection filed by their counsel, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), held that it was premature and lacking in merit.
The judge dismissed Idigbe's submission that the charge against his clients was incompetent because the EFCC had not obtained a fiat from the Attorney-General of Lagos State to prosecute them.
She held that the EFCC and the Attorney-General of the Federation were empowered to prosecute criminal offences under state laws, even without a fiat from the state's attorney general.
Okunnu said:" Section 211 (1) of the Constitution allows for circumstances in which any other body other than the Attorney-General can institute criminal proceedings against a person.
"The EFCC Act, which is an Act of the National Assembly also empowers the agency to prosecute criminal matters under a state law".
The judge noted that the EFCC Act and the Constitution were superior to the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State 2011.
She also dismissed the argument by the defence that the EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) was not competent to prosecute the defendants.
Okunnu said the anti-graft agency was at liberty to engage the services of private persons in prosecuting its matters with or without a fiat from the state's attorney general.
The judge also refused to strike out counts 5 to 18 in the charge, which Idigbe had claimed were brought under a repealed law.
She said: "The alleged offences were committed before the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011 came into effect.
"It is only proper that they are charged with the law that was in force and that is the Criminal Code, Laws of Lagos State, 2003.
"The defendants will be prosecuted under the law that was in force at the time the alleged offences were committed in the interest of fair hearing".
The judge further held that the charge, which was signed by one Mr L.A. Yusuf on behalf of the EFCC chairman, was competent and properly before the court.
She said: "I find, therefore, that this preliminary objection is premature and lacking in merit.
"It is hereby overruled and stands dismissed".
NAN reports that the matter was adjourned to May 20 for commencement of trial.