by Akan Ido
John Yusuf, a director of the Police Pension Board who was yesterday sentenced to a two-year jail term by a FCT High Court in Abuja for taking part in defrauding pensioners of N27.2bn may likely walk with just a slap on the wrist.
Yusuf, who admitted to stealing N2bn was sentenced to two years in jail but also given an option of fine in the sum of N750,000 for the three offences he pleaded guilty to.
Each of the offences attract a two-year jail term but, according to the presiding judge, Abubakar Talba, the sentences run cuncurrently.
The Punch Newspapers reports it thus:
Yusuf, who by his sentence becomes the first to be jailed in the ongoing trial of persons involved in the N38.8bn Police pension scam, will however forfeit 32 houses in the FCT and Gombe as well as N325m which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said were proceeds from the crime.
Many in the courtroom openly expressed their amazement with Talba’s judgment.
The exchanges among the gathering, which included lawyers, journalists, relatives of all the accused persons and observers, were loud enough for the court clerk to call everybody to order.
The lenient nature of the sentence was underscored by the reaction of Yusuf’s lawyer, Maiyaki Bala, who said his client was ready to pay the fine immediately after the sentencing.
With EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), noticeably close to tears, Bala told journalists that they intended to take up the option of fine immediately.
There were indications that Yusuf, who appeared calm and confident in a light green kaftan with a matching green cap, made the payment before leaving the premises of the court, located in Gudu.
Although his bank accounts were reportedly frozen by the order of the court, it seemed he was still able to raise money – perhaps through friends and relatives – as it was gathered that he was issued with a Revenue Collector’s Receipt before he left the court premises.
The convict, who had been on bail before he was sentenced, was driven away in his personal car.
Before Talba read the judgment, the embattled director had made a U-turn on his earlier not guilty plea by admitting that he committed three offences.
Yusuf specifically pleaded guilty to counts 18, 19 and 20, where he was alleged to have connived with the other suspects –Essai Dangabar, Atiku Kigo, Ahmed Wada, Veronica Ulonma, Sani Zira, Uzoma Attang and Christian Madubuike – to convert the sums of N24.2bn, N1.3bn and N1.7bn, belonging to the office to their personal use.
Yusuf’s sentencing came after he pleaded guilty to betraying trust and fraudulently converting N2bn of police pension funds to private use. The trial continues for the other accused.
He admitted to the 19th and 20th offences relating specifically to him, each involving betrayal of trust and the conversion of N1bn apiece. The maximum penalty for the offence is two years.
Attang and Madubuike were added in an amended 20-count.
Attang is still in service as Director of Finance and Accounts in the Ministry of Communications. He was a director in the PPO between 2007 and 2008.
The trial of the other accused persons was adjourned till February 26, 2013.
Their action is punishable under section 309 of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria 2007.
Yusuf’s guilty plea had apparently taken the courtroom by surprise, but immediately after, Jacobs asked the court to convict and sentence him.
He also made an application for the forfeiture of 13 houses and the N325m.
“We urge you to take into account these properties and the money, so that the court can make an order that the proceeds from the sales of the properties should go back to the Police Pension Office for the payment of the entitlements of legitimate pensioners,” Jacobs said.
Bala, also moved immediately by pleading for a lenient sentence.
He said that his client had shown remorse for the offences.
Bala said, “By pleading guilty, the convict has shown respect to this court and has saved the precious time of the court.
“The court will also find out that he is a first time offender without any previous record of conviction; furthermore, he is the head of a family of four, a wife and three children, two of who are university students while one is a primary school pupil.
“These people depend on him for their survival and wellbeing, including the payment of school fees.
“It is also pertinent to note that he has a chronic heart condition which has aggravated to a serious case of high blood pressure, a condition that requires frequent medical attention.
“His aged parents are still alive and due to old age, have attendant medical complications which require regular medical attention and both depend on him to deal with these.”
Bala added that Yusuf was a community leader with a number of students depending on him for scholarship.
He noted that the students would lose the opportunity if justice was not tempered with mercy.
The counsel added that should the court grant the application for forfeiture of his client’s assets, the EFCC would take everything from him (Yusuf) .
He urged the court to exercise its discretionary powers granted it under section 309 of the Penal Code in favour of the convict and give him an option of fine.
Bala argued that doing so would encourage the other accused persons to admit their guilt, where it exists.
Pronouncing sentence on the convict, Talba said he had taken favourable note of the fact that Yusuf was a first time offender, and had also opted on his own volition to plead guilty, thereby saving the time of the court.
But he stressed that the court also had a duty to the country, which had suffered from corruption.
He held that section 309 of the Penal Code, under which the accused persons were charged, stipulates a two-year prison term with an option of fine or both.
Consequently, he sentenced Yusuf to two years’ imprisonment for each of the three counts or a fine of N250, 000.
Among the properties are two units of a three-bedroom semi detached bungalows at R2, A and B, Sunny Homes, Dakwo District, Abuja; two units of three bedroom semi bungalow- detached at M24, A and B, Sunny homes, Dakwo District Abuja; four units of a 3bedroom semi- detached bungalows, in Abuja; eight units of an Estate of two-bedroom flats, at Gombe, GRA; one unit Semi-detached Duplex at house 21, 4th Avenue, Gwarinpa, Abuja; four units of a two bedroom semi – detached duplex at Bricks City, Kubwa Road, Abuja and one unit of Semi- Detached Duplex, at 14B Democracy Crescent, Gaduwa, Abuja.
A displeased Jacobs protested the option of fine given to the convict, noting that it mocked the anti-corruption campaign of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
In a statement later on Monday, the EFCC condemned the judgment.
The commission said it would study the judgment and respond appropriately.
Parts of the statement signed by its spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwajaren, reads, “The EFCC has expressed reservation about the ruling of an FCT High Court, Abuja which handed a six-year-jail term with the option of N750, 000 fine to John Yakubu Yusufu, one of the persons standing trial in the N32.8bn Police Pension scam.
“Justice Mohammed Talba convicted and sentenced Yusufu to two years’ imprisonment with the option of N250, 000 fine on three of an amended 20-count.
“The commission is of the view that the option of fine runs contrary to the understanding between the prosecution and the defence wherein the convict consented to a custodial sentence with the forfeiture of all assets and money that are proceeds of the crime.”