How Ekweremadu, wife landed in Jail
Former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu was, yesterday, sentenced to nine years and six months in jail at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, United Kingdom (UK), while his wife, Beatrice, got six years.
Mr. Justice Jeremiah Johnson slammed the sentences just before 2:00pm in Courtroom One after a tense and long sentencing hearing. Their kidney donor broker, Dr. Obinna Obeta, got 10 years. All three had already been found guilty at the same court on March 23, after a seven-week jury trial.
However, both the Senator and his wife got some discounts and will not serve the entire duration of their terms due to mitigating circumstances that Johnson factored into his judgment. While the senator will serve two thirds of his term, his wife’s term was reduced to four years and six months after factoring in the discounts.
“It’s going to be two thirds” Gary Owen, one of the Senator’s barristers told The Guardian outside the Court after the judgment when asked to clarify the implication of the discount.
On her part, the wife would serve half of her term. So, while the Senator will do about six years, he won’t stay locked up for that much as he’s already been in custody since June 21, 2023, when he was arrested with the wife at Heathrow Airport. She too will spend less than three years, as the time already spent in custody will be deducted.
After the sentencing, the senator’s daughter, Sonia, and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe were in tears. But the Ekweremadus sons, Prince and Lylod, kept their emotions intact.
Friends and other family members who had stayed outside the court for over three hours looked saddened and many shook their heads at the sentences. While Crown Prosecutor, Hugh Davies, KC, looked happy as he made his way out of the Old Bailey, the Senator’s barrister, Martin Hicks, KC, wasn’t.
Speaking outside the court, he asked: “Where’s the compassion?” Hicks, who was in the company of his assistant, Owen, as he addressed a handful of the press and well wishers of the Ekweremadus, added: “l didn’t think this could be happening in my time.” He went further to describe the judgment as “a political statement.”
But Abuja based lawyer, Abubakar Sani, who reacted to the judgment, applauded how the UK handled the case, saying investigators did their work well before the prosecution took the case to court.
“From all indications, everything was done professionally and competently. The sentence might appear excessive and or harsh, but overall, it does not appear to be inconsistent with the evidence. Too bad for the convicts, but the system worked efficiently. More than you can say for these parts,” he added.
On June 23, 2022, the London Metropolitan Police announced that it has arrested Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice, for conspiring to bring an alleged 15-year-old boy to the UK for organ harvesting on June 23, 2022. The kidney donor David Nwamini’s travel was said to have been arranged between August 1, 2021, and May 5, 2022, with a view to exploitation, punishable under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015.
At the Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court on June 23, last year, the couple pleaded not guilty and was remanded in custody and the trial adjourned till July 7.
When the trial resumed proper in February 3, this year, after several adjournments, Ekweremadu sat motionless from his prison, as his daughter’s application to not stand trial with him and her mother for their “conspiracy to harvest organ” charges was thrown out by Justice Johnson.
Both Sonia, 25, who was in the dock with her mother, Beatrice, while the senator followed proceedings via video link also looked unmoved, as the judge ruled that she was not unfit to stand a “criminal trial lasting seven weeks” as her defence barrister, Femi Oni, had argued.
However, it was a day of the battle of expert witnesses as both her counsel and the Crown prosecutor used the testimonies and reports of expert witnesses to back their arguments in the courtroom.
After tabling the application for “stay of proceedings” on the basis that “she’s unfit” medically and psychologically due to her ongoing thrice a week dialysis, both sides of the bench led their expert witnesses in testimonies via video link, beginning with the Manchester-based professor that Oni had lined up.
After being sworn in, the defence asked him: “Did you have an opportunity to get consultation with her before writing his report”, he replied with a “yes.” Asked if he has a report on “what she’s suffering from?” the professor told the court that “she’s developed from a young age, a kidney condition “that led to a gradual dysfunction and consequently, “her life is dependent on dialysis treatment until she has a kidney transplant.”
Led in further testimony, he told the court the treatment has placed a psychological, mental and medical burden on her as it does on other dialysis patients. The professor also relied on the report of a consultant psychiatrist.
Davies, on his part, had Dr Andrews as his expert witness. Though he admitted having not had any direct consultation with Sonia, but did say if the court’s schedule of sitting times was moved to afternoons to accommodate her treatment days, that she’s capable of standing trial. Andrew told the court in his testimony that, ‘the residual symptoms of dialysis does not make it impossible to attend trial.”
After listening to the barristers and their expert witnesses, including their reports, and acknowledging that the treatment takes its toll on her and that she has even had to withdraw from her Masters degree programme after her diagnosis, the judge said it is not confirmed that her recovery or clinical care could suffer if she were to stand trial. He then ruled that accordingly, “the application is dismissed.”
A week later, a Royal Free Hospital dialysis expert who carried out a routine pre-surgical assessment for the kidney donor told the court that he had concerns about his suitability and that he didn’t seem to know the implications of what he had signed up for.
Prosecution witness, Dr David DuPont, said as part of normal clinical practice of interviewing potential donors, so as to be certain they were not being “forced or under duress or coerced nor induced to donate their organ”, he asked Nwamini these and other questions during a face-to-face meeting at the clinic last year February.
Though he said Nwamini “denied that he was being paid “to donate one of his kidneys for Sonia Ekweremadu”, but he “was very subdued during the meeting and didn’t seem to understand what he had signed for.”
Led in the witness box by Crown prosecutor, Hugh Davies, KC, DuPont said the meeting with Nwamini threw up a couple of red flags, which he knew might constitute a hurdle when he is put forward to the Human Tissue Authority for approval as the regulator of organ donation from living people.
Though he said Nwamini said Sonia and him are “first cousins” and that he heard about her condition from his “aunt” – Beatrice Ekweremadu – in October 2021, when asked if anyone else in the wider family wanted to donate, “he said he didn’t know.” Besides, he said he had not seen Sonia in over a decade.
Continuing his testimony, DuPont said: “It came as a surprise to me that a young man of his age would want to do it.” The medical expert witness also told the court that when he asked further questions, including what he was doing, and what his parents do, Nwamini said he was “studying for his GCSE” and that his “parents are traders.”
These, DuPont told the court, “was a red flag.” He said he was concerned that they may not be able to fund his aftercare when he returns to Nigeria. Then on Friday, February 17, the Jurors were told how Nwamini mentioned Ekweremadu as the sponsor of his medical treatment to the UK in his visa application. He also stated in the form that Ekweremadu was sponsoring the £15,000 cost of the intended 28-day medical trip to the UK, beginning January 31 of last year. He also said in the form that the purpose of the trip was to enable him to donate his organ to Sonia.
In the visa application form, which was part of the evidence that the prosecution tendered at the court, Nwamini completed the “additional information” section as well, stating that he will be donating his organ to Sonia.
“I will be donating my organ to my cousin, Sonia Ekweremadu, for her sacrifices to my family,” he wrote in the additional information section of the form.
Though, earlier in the evidence, crown prosecutor Davies, noted that the “application is Nwamini’s whereas the contact email is that of Obinna Obeta.”
In one section of the online form, where he was asked, “if anyone is paying” for the planned medical visit, he mentioned the senator’s name. Asked “why?” He wrote: “Senator Ike Ekweremadu is sponsoring my visit to the UK to enable me to donate my organ to Chinonso-Sonia.”
At another trial session on Friday, March 10, Ekweremadu, while giving evidence, reiterated to the court that he did what “was expedient” to save his daughter’s life.
He admitted to the court that they knew that Nwamini, who Obeta had sourced to donate his kidney to Sonia, was not her cousin. Notwithstanding, he still went ahead to provide a supporting visa application letter in December 2021, claiming Nwamini and his daughter are maternal cousins. This, he reiterated, was the guidance from Obeta.
Under cross-examination from Davies, the prosecutor cited, among others, a dialogue between Obeta and one Dr Chris Agbo, on February 19, last year, about the visa application.
Davies asked: “Were you aware of this dialogue of maintaining a lie that Nwamini and Sonia are not distant but maternal cousins? Ekweremadu replied with “l was not aware,” but “the only lie here is the issue of cousin. We’ve said we’re sorry for that.”
Continuing, he told the packed Courtroom 5 that, “everything I said in that letter is true and is still true today.” The senator added that in the three letters he wrote concerning the application, he made it clear that Nwamini was coming for medical assessments. He also said that unknown to them, Nwamini’s plan was to japa (flee Nigeria) and to seek “asylum” in the UK.
The Crown also referenced an update that the senator’s younger brother was giving him on February 25, also of last year. In it, he was saying that they had met Evelyn – who served as an Igbo interpreter – an employee of Royal Free Hospital, Hempstead, and she’s agreed to work for them on coaching Nwamini to maintain that he is Sonia’s maternal cousin.
When Davies said that was “completely unambiguous,” Ekweremadu responded from the witness box, saying “l’ve explained it to you already that it was a lie and that he was sorry for it.”
On Friday, March 17, the lyrics of award winning Afrobeats star, Burna Boy, “Look, Look, Well Well,” was used at the court during the trial of Ekweremadu, Beatrice, Sonia and Obeta.
Sonia’s barrister, John Femi Ola, KC, made reference to the lyrics in his closing statement to the jury, telling them that the Crown Prosecution’s main witness, David Nwamini, on whom the “conspiracy to facilitate and arrange travel with the aim of exploitation” trial is built, is an “accomplished liar.”
Nwamini, he told the jurors, is so “skilled and smart” in what he does that he went to Staines Police Station on May 5, last year, to report that he had been trafficked to London by strangers who brought him from Lagos and that he was a 15-year old orphan. “It was all lies,” Ola said. “David went to the Police Station and he convinced a senior police officer that he was 15 years old.”
Earlier in the trial, Nwamini’ had in his video link live testimony to the court, said during the meetings, including lunch on February 22 of last year he had with Sonia, her mum and Obeta and others, he was always marginalised and that they were always talking behind him while he sat away.
Ola asked a prosecution detective to display the photo that Sonia and Nwamini took on the date. It showed them sitting together and he was smiling. The barrister then told the jurors to “Look, look, well, well,” before then asking the photo to be taken off.
Prior to Ola addressing the jurors, the senators own barrister, Hicks, had told them the Thursday before that, “Ike Ekweremadu is not an organ trafficker,” noting further that “he did not exploit David Nwamini.”
Despite the defence put up by Ekweremadu, 60; his wife, Beatrice, 56; and Obeta, 51, the court convicted them for organ trafficking on Thursday, March 23, in the first verdict of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act.
However, the court cleared the lawmaker’s daughter, Sonia. The jury ruled that Ekweremadu, his wife and their doctor criminally conspired to bring the 21-year-old Lagos street trader to London to exploit him for his kidney and reserved their sentencing till yesterday.
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