Abacha’s son must face trial over return of $625m loot – Supreme Court
Mohammed, son of the late former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, has lost in his bid to frustrate government’s efforts to retrieve funds estimated at billions of naira, allegedly looted by his father.
The Supreme Court yesterday ordered Mohammed to submit himself for trial before the Abuja High Court, in respect of the loot.
Mohammed had gone to the apex court in a bid to upturn the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, which supported the decision of the Federal Government to subject Mohammed to trial in its bid to recover the funds allegedly looted by his late father, and to which he (Mohammed) allegedly has access.
The Federal Government had filed a charge of 123 counts, bordering on conspiracy, receiving of stolen funds, among others, against him, before the Abuja High Court.
Mohammed refused to plead to the charge. Instead, he approached the Court of Appeal to challenge the legality of his planned trial. He argued that he had complied with the provisions of the Forfeiture of Assets (Certain Persons) Decree No. 53 of 1999.
His lawyer, Joseph Daudu (SAN) argued that having complied with the provisions of the decree, no criminal or civil suit could be brought against Mohammed again.
The Court of Appeal threw out the appeal on the grounds that there was nothing in the provision of Decree No. 53 of 1999 which prevents the Abuja High Court from exercising its judicial power to try Abacha.
Justice Amina Augie, who read the lead judgment at the Court of Appeal, held that the decree did not resolve any criminal issues sought to be determined in the charge against him before the Abuja High Court.
The Court of Appeal also held that Decree No.53 did not confer any immunity on Mohammed. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.
In its judgment yesterday, read by Justice Oluwakayode Ariwoola, the Supreme Court ordered Mohammed to return to the trial court to take his plea and possibly plead a no case submission, if he so wishes.
The apex court held that had the late Gen. Abacha been alive today and outside office, he would be liable to prosecution.
The court noted that Mohammed was charged with offences against the state, and that forfeiture order made in relation to Decree 53 was just a punishment, which cannot earn him indemnity against trial.
The court held that the immunity enjoyed by his late father while in office cannot work for the son. The apex court was of the view that the immunity enjoyed by his father expired when he exited office, in accordance with the provisions of Section 308 of the Constitution.