John Yusuf, a former assistant director of the federal civil service, whose 2013 sentencing of two years in jail with an option of N750,000 for stealing N33 billion of police pension fund caused widespread outrage in the country, will now spend six years in prison in addition to paying a fine of N23 billion, the Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday.
Mr. Yusuf was tried on a 20-count charge in 2013 alongside four other officials – Atiku Abubakar, a permanent secretary; Ahmed Wada, a director; Veronica Onyegbula, a cashier; and Sani Zira, an ICT officer.
He, thereafter, pleaded guilty to betraying trust and fraudulently converting N2 billion of the police pension to personal use.
After his guilty plea, Abubakar Talba, the trial judge of the High Court of the Federal Territory, Abuja, sentenced him to the maximum two years jail term for each of the three count he pleaded guilty to but surprisingly gave him the option of avoiding jail with a fine of N250,000.00 for each of the counts.
The ruling caused outrage among activists. Olarenwaju Suraj, a Lagos-based anti-corruption activist, had described the ruling at the time as a “handshake ruling.”
“This casts aspersion on the integrity of the judge and it may assure those willing to try something like this that crime pays,” Mr. Suraj had said.
Dissatisfied with the high court’s ruling, the prosecuting agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed an appeal at the appeal court to set aside the ruling.
The anti-graft commission questioned the discretion of the judge in imposing sentence on the respondent who pleaded guilty to counts 17, 18 and 19 of the charge in which he admitted converting an aggregate sum of over N24 billion of police pension fund into his personal use.
In its brief of argument filed on September 17, 2013, the EFCC asked the appeal court to determine, “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.”
Mr. Yusuf, however, argued that the notice of appeal was filed outside the mandatory 90 days and was therefore in contravention of Section 24 (2)(b) of the Court of Appeal Act 2010. He therefore asked the court to dismiss the appeal.