John Yusuf, the pension thief who five years ago, was given a slap on the wrist punishment by Justice Abubakar Talba of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, for stealing N32.8 billion police pension money, has finally got his deserved sanctions.
The Court of Appeal Abuja Division on Wednesday jailed him six years and also asked him to refund N22.9 billion.
Justice Talba had sentenced him to two years in jail, with the option of paying a fine of N750,000. The judgment triggered national outrage.
The ruling by the appellate court was the climax of the appeal by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which on April 26, 2013 approached the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the lower court.
The five grounds of the appeal, bordered on the exercise of discretion of the judge in imposing sentence on the respondent who pleaded guilty to the three count charge, in which he admitted converting an aggregate sum of over N24 billion of Police Pension fund into his personal use.
The EFCC asked the Appeal Court to decide “whether the trial judge exercised his discretion judicially and judiciously when having convicted the respondent of a three-count charge of conversion of over N3 billion contrary to section 309 of the Penal Code, His Lordship imposed two years imprisonment with an option of fine of N250, 000 on each of the three counts.”
Yusuf’s lawyers on June 10, 2015 raised a preliminary objection on the competence of the appeal for which they argued that the notice of appeal was filed outside the mandatory 90 days and therefore in contravention of s. 24(2)(b) of the Court of Appeal Act, 2010 (as Amended) and therefore urged the Court to dismiss the appeal.
The Justices of the Court of Appeal, dismissed the preliminary objection on the grounds that: “Having considered the computation of time volunteered by both parties, the question to be answered was whether the day the judgment of the trial court was delivered was to be inclusive in the computation of the mandatory 90 days for which a notice of appeal was to be filed?
“That the day the judgment of the trial court was delivered being the January 28, 2013, was not to be included in the computation of the 90 days.
“That since the day of the judgment is not included, the 90 days starts running from the January 29, 2013 and the 90 day will fall on a Sunday.
“That by virtue of s. 15(2) of the Interpretation Act CAP 123, where the last day is a holiday, the counting shall continue until the end of the next following day which is not a holiday.
“That since the 90th day was a Sunday and by virtue of s. 15 (5) of Interpretation Act, a Sunday is a holiday, the next day which the notice of appeal was filed is within time, hence the appeal is competent and is therefore allowed.”
Ruling on the substantive matter, the Justices of the Court of Appeal held unanimously that the three counts involving the respondent (Counts 17, 18 and 19) clearly stated the amounts for which the appellant alleged that the respondent converted for his personal use. That the respondent pleaded guilty to the three counts and thereby admitted to the conversion of an aggregate sum of about N24 billion to his personal use.
The judges ruled that the sentence of the trial court, does not serve as deterrence to both the convict and others. Consequently, they ruled that the sentence is “hereby quashed and deserves to be reviewed as follows:
• On Counts 17, the respondent is hereby sentenced to two years imprisonment with an addition of fine of N20 billion;
• On Counts 18, the respondent is hereby sentenced to two years imprisonment with an addition of fine of N1.4 billion;
• On Counts 19, the respondent is hereby sentenced to two years imprisonment with an addition of fine of N1.5 billion.”
The prison sentence will run consecutively and the fine is to be cumulative.