Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo of a Lagos Special Offences Court, Ikeja, has exonerated Former Managing Director of AIICO Capital Limited – a subsidiary of American International Insurance Company, AIICO Plc, Lanre Fabunmi, and others of stealing and dishonest conversion of funds belonging to the company.
Others that was discharged and acquitted by the judge were Onome Odometa, Olajumoke Akano and Olabode Ogunlere.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had arraigned them for illegally approving sales commission to themselves.
The defendants were arraigned on 22 amended counts, bordering on alleged conspiracy, stealing, dishonest conversion of funds for the purpose of purchasing properties and converting funds.
Their offence is said to be contrary to and punishable under Section 287(8),332(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015.
The EFCC had alleged that the defendants, staff of AIICO had been appropriating some money to themselves illegally in the guise of the sales commission.
Following their plea of not guilty to all count charges, the prosecution team led by Mr. Rotimi Williams (SAN) opened their case, called eight witnesses and tendered several documents as exhibits before they closed their case.
During trial, the prosecution witness narrated to the court the process of sales in the investment arm of AIICO. The PW1 (Eguarekhide Longe) had told the court that he was working with AIICO Pension.
He said the company sells insurance contracts and gets money and invests.
According to him, AIICO Insurance group deploys a broad agency network to sell insurance contracts and for agency work done, sales commission is paid to the agent.
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Longe told the court that the sales commission is usually approved by the board and that the Managing Director cannot sign more than N5million.
He told the court that none of the defendants were board members or directors of the company.
After the closed prosecution case, the defendants through their counsel, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika (SAN), Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN) for first to third defendants respectively, they filed a no case submission which was vehemently argued before the court.
However, while ruling on their no-case submission, Justice Taiwo held that the prosecution failed to prove the alleged offence against the defendants.
The court said that the prosecution witness, an investigator (PW8) during cross examination, said he never came across any document showing that defendants and Lanre Fabunmi met and carried out any illegal act.
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She made reference to evidence of a second prosecution witness (PW2) that before any payment is made, it must go through its internal control client service and the Managing Director approves.
The court held that none of the defendants have shown to be part of Internal control or hatching a plan to steal from the company with an erstwhile managing director, Lanre Fabunmi.
She said believing the evidence of the prosecution that they (defendants) got huge sums as sales commission means they connived with an erstwhile managing director, Lanre Fabunmi, would be speculation on the part of the court.
The judge said lack of concrete evidence creates doubt in the mind of the court. After the judge cited a plethora of decided cases, she held that the court does not act on speculations, let alone conjectures that are ambiguously speculative.
On the established trite legal principle, that suspicion no matter how grave is not evidence and cannot be the basis for conviction of any person in law. Suspicion remains suspicion and cannot graduate to convincing evidence no matter how grave the suspicion can be.
Justice Taiwo held that, ” the myriad of evidence to prove the payment of the sales commission also reveals that the defendants in any capacity did not approve the payment to themselves.”
The trial judge said the prosecution is expected to prove that indeed there was a meeting of minds between the defendants and erstwhile MD, Lanre Fabunmi to commit the offence.
” In final analysis, the case of the prosecution is riddled with speculations, half truths and insufficient evidence to support the amended information.
“The case of the prosecution was thoroughly whittled down under cross examination and the remnants of the evidence have not established a case against the defendants warranting the need for them to enter their evidence.
“Consequently, having failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants, the no-case submission made by the defendants is hereby upheld. The defendants are hereby discharged and acquitted.”