The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Lagos Zonal office, on Tuesday, December 18, 2018, arraigned the President, Nigerian Bar Association, Paul Usoro, SAN, before Justice M.S. Hassan of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos on a 10- count charge bordering on money laundering to the tune of N1,410,000,000,000.00( One Billion, Four Hundred and Ten Million Naira).
The defendant was scheduled to be arraigned on Monday, December 10, 2018. However, the arraignment was stalled due to the unavailability of the defendant to be served the charge.
At the last adjourned sitting, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, told the court that the EFCC’s investigators could not serve the charge on the defendant because he was not available.
“He pleaded with them that he had a function abroad and that he would be available on Friday, December 7, 2018.
“However, the defendant did not make good his promise for the charge to be served on him,” he had told the court.
However, the lead defence counsel, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, had told the court that “It is the duty of the prosecutor to serve the defendant.
“It is wrong for the prosecutor to tell a defendant to come and pick his charge.”
Olanipekun had also told the court that his client did not make any promise to honour any invitation by the prosecution, to pick up his charge.
“The defendant voluntarily came to court today. The defendant is the NBA President; so, he is always very busy with a lot of engagements”, he had added.
He had, therefore, urged the court to direct the officer of the court to serve the charge on the defendant, adding that “We also ask that the court direct its Registrar to serve the charge on the defendant before the next adjourned date.”
In a short ruling, Justice Hassan had ordered the prosecutor to serve the defendant with the charge and adjourned to Tuesday, December 18, 2018 for proper arraignment.
When the matter was called Tuesday, Olanipekun informed the court that the defendant had written to the Chief Judge, Federal High Court, seeking to transfer the matter to either Uyo in Akwa-Ibom or Abuja.
He added that if the case would be heard in Lagos, the matter should be re-assigned to another Judge.
Olanipekun further told the court that the defendant’s application was already before the Chief Judge and prayed the court to await the decision of the Chief Judge before the defendant would take his plea.
In his response, Oyedepo, however, told the court that there was nothing before the court that could warrant the setting aside of the ruling of the court on December 10, 2018 for the arraignment of the defendant Tuesday.
Oyedepo, who urged the court to order the defendant to take his pleas since he was already in court, further submitted that there was no formal application to the court.
“It is just a letter from the defendant to the Chief Judge, Federal High Court. He did not apply to the court. And I am yet to receive a response from the Chief Judge. I was just copied and not served. I urge my Lord not to act on anticipation”, he said.
He, therefore, prayed the court to allow the defendant to take his plea.
Justice Hassan, in a short ruling, said he had read the letter written by the defendant to the Chief Judge.
The Judge further held that the defendant did not dispute the service of the charge.
The defendant was, therefore, ordered to take his plea.
One of the counts reads: “ That you, Paul Usoro, SAN; Emmanuel Udom (currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution), Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko (still at large), Nsikan Linus Nkan, Commissioner of Finance, Akwa Ibom State (still at large); Mfon Jacobson Udomah, Accountant-General, Akwa Ibom State, (still at large) and Margaret Thompson Ukpe (still at large) sometime in 2015 in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired amongst yourselves to commit an offence, to wit: conversion of the sum of N1.410, 000,000,000.00 (One Billion, Four Hundred and Ten Million Naira), property of the Government of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity to wit: criminal breach of trust and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act”.
The defendant pleaded not guilty to the charge when it was read to him.
In view of his plea, the prosecution counsel, Oyedepo, asked for a trial date and urged the court to remand the defendant in prison custody pending the hearing of the bail application.
However, Olanipekun moved an application for bail dated December 12, 2018 and filed the same day on behalf of the defendant.
Olanipekun prayed the court to grant the defendant bail on liberal terms and on self-recognizance.
He also informed the court that the defendant would deposit his International passport to the court, but would apply for it anytime he wants to make use of it.
Justice Hassan, after listening to both counsels, granted the defendant bail in the sum of N250 million with one surety in like sum.
The surety must be a Director either in the Federal or Lagos State civil service.
The Judge also ordered that the surety must own a landed property and must deposit the land documents to the court.
The defendant was also ordered to deposit his international passport to the court.
The Judge also ordered the defendant to be released to Offong E. Offong, SAN, pending the perfection of his bail.
The matter was adjourned to February 5, 2019 for commencement of trial.