Court orders arrest of A/Ibom commissioners for alleged money laundering
NEWS DIGEST–The Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday issued a bench warrant for the arrest of two Akwa Ibom State commissioners.
They are Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan and Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa also ordered the arrest of Akwa Ibom State Accountant-General, Mfon Udomah.
Their arrest followed an application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which said they were at large.
They were charged along with Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president Mr Paul Usoro (SAN) for alleged N1.4billion fraud.
EFCC re-arraigned Usoro before Justice Aikawa. He pleaded not guilty.
After the re-arraignment, prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo urged the court to compel the appearance of the suspects due to the commission’s inability to produce them.
He said the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) empowers the court to compel the appearance of a suspect either by summons or warrant.
“We seek your Lordship’s order to compel their attendance. We seek to bring them before the court in the interest of justice,” he said.
But, Usoro’s lead counsel Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) opposed the application.
He said those sought to be arrested were not named as defendants in the charge.
“The individuals were not charged before the court. Until they are charged, you cannot order their arrest,” the SAN said.
But the judge refused Ifedayo’s objection.
Granting the prayer, Justice Aikawa held: “I order that bench warrant be issued against the named persons.”
Justice Aikawa is the third judge to handle the case.
Usoro was first arraigned before Justice Muslim Hassan on a 10-count charge.
The judge later withdrew from the case after Usoro asked him to recuse himself.
Usoro was to be re-arraigned before Justice Chika Obiozor, but the judge recused himself for personal reasons on the day of re-arraignment.
“For personal reasons, I hereby disqualify myself from handling the case.
“I hereby return this file to the Chief Judge for reassignment to another judge,” Justice Obiozor ruled.
Also named in the charge is Governor Emmanuel Udom, “currently constitutionally immunity from prosecution.”
EFCC alleged that the defendants committed the offence on May 14, 2016.
The commission alleged that Usoro conspired with others to commit the offence within the court’s jurisdiction.
He was alleged to have conspired to convert N1.4 billion, property of Akwa Ibom State Government, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity.
The prosecution said the unlawful activity included criminal breach of trust which contravened sections 15 (2), 15(3), and 18 (A) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
Usoro, represented by six SANs and other lawyers, pleaded not guilty.
Justice Aikawa allowed him to continue on the bail granted him by Justice Hassan.
Justice Hassan granted Usoro bail for N250 million, with one surety in like sum.
The court added that the surety must own landed property within the court’s jurisdiction, or be a civil servant not lower than the rank of a Director in the Federal or State civil service.
The NBA President was further ordered to deposit his international passport with the Court’s Deputy Chief Registrar (DCR), which will be verified for genuineness.
The court then ordered that Usoro be handed over to a counsel of the inner bar, Mr E.B. Effiong (SAN), pending perfection of his bail terms.
Justice Aikawa added that if the surety is below the rank of director, he must deposit his title documents with the court’s registry.
Oyedepo pointed out that Usoro was yet to meet the bail conditions imposed on him by Justice Hassan.
Justice Aikawa ordered Usoro to perfect his bail terms within two weeks.
“The defendants shall be released to Offiong pending fulfilment of his bail conditions, which shall be on or before March 15,” the judge said.
Justice Aikawa adjourned until March 18 and 19 for trial.