The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Friday re-arraigned the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro, in a Federal High Court Lagos, on 10 counts of N1.4 billion fraud.
Mr Usoro was first arranged before Justice Muslim Hassan on December 18, 2018.
Also named in the charge is the incumbent governor of Akwa Ibom, Emmanuel Udom, who is described in the charge as being “currently constitutionally immune from prosecution.”
Others charged are the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mfon Udomah; Akwa Ibom State Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko and Margaret Ukpe.
The aforementioned defendants are said to be at large.
Mr Usoro had pleaded not guilty to the charges, but the case before Justice Hassan was subsequently transferred to another judge, Justice Chuka Obiozor, following an application by the defence counsel.
On February 14, Mr Obiozor in a ruling recused himself from the case on personal grounds and said that the case file would be returned for re-assignment to another judge.
The case was re-assigned to Rilwan Aikawa, who is the third judge before whom the charge is presented.
On Friday, Rotimi Oyedepo appeared for the EFCC while Ifedayo Adedipe appeared for the defendant.
The 10-count charge was read to Mr Usoro and he pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The defence counsel made an application for the defendant to continue with the earlier bail granted by the previous judge.
This application was however opposed by the prosecution who argued that having applied that the case be transferred from Mr Hassan, the defence cannot, therefore, benefit from the bail granted by the same judge.
He said that although he was not opposed to bail, the court should grant its own bail terms as the matter was commencing afresh before it.
After listening to respective submissions of counsel, Mr Aikawa, held that it was the court’s view that bail is peripheral to a trial as it does not affect the substance of the trial, adding that the court has the discretion to depart from or adopt the earlier terms granted.
In view of the circumstances, the judge held that the conditions imposed by the previous, Mr Hassan, be adopted.
The court admitted the defendant to bail in the sum of N250 million with one surety in like sum.
The court also ordered that the surety must be the owner of landed property within the court jurisdiction or a public servant not below the rank of a Director in the Federal or State civil service.
The court also ordered the surety must deposit titled document with the court’s registry and also deposit his/her international passport with the court’s registry.
The court held that “the above terms are hereby adopted save to add that where the surety is a civil servant, his credentials must be verified by the court’s registry.”
The court also adopted the terms granted by Justice Hassan, and released Mr Usoro to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Effiong B. Effiong, pending the perfection of his bail terms.
Meanwhile, Mr Oyedepo then informed the court that he had an application to make, and urged the court to issue a bench warrant for the arrest and production in court the persons mentioned in the body of the charge and who are described as being at large.
They include Uwemedimo Nwoko, Margaret Ukpe, Linus Nsikan, and Mfot Udomah.
The court granted this application and ordered that bench warrant be issued against the named persons.
NAN reports that in the charge marked FHC/418c/18, the anti-graft agency alleged that the accused committed the offence on May 14, 2016.
The commission alleged that Usoro, conspired with others, to commit the offence within the jurisdiction of the court.
He was alleged to have conspired to convert N1.4 billion, the property of Akwa Ibom State Government, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of unlawful activity.
The prosecution said that the unlawful activity include criminal breach of trust which contravenes the provisions of section 15 (2), 15(3), and 18 (A) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
The matter was adjourned till March 18 for trial.(NAN)