Hon. Farouk Lawan
*$620,000 subsidy bribe scandal - RLB
By Tobi Soniyi
After several months of apparent reluctance to prosecute, the former chairman of the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Oil Subsidy, Hon. Farouk Lawan, and the secretary of the committee, Boniface Emenalo, were Friday arraigned at an Abuja High Court for allegedly receiving a bribe of $620,000 from oil magnate, Mr. Femi Otedola.
They were arraigned before Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi. When the charges were read to them, both pleaded not guilty and the judge ordered that the two accused be remanded in Kuje Prison until February 8, when the court will deliver a ruling on their bail application.
Prosecution counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, told the court that the investigations had been concluded and the lists of witnesses filed.
He said he was ready to go on with the trial and applied for the accused to be placed in custody pending the trial date.
Awomolo also told the court that he was served with the application for bail yesterday morning.
He said: "If it is convenient to your Lordship to take the application, we will address your Lordship on issues of law and have authorities in opposing the bail application. Alternatively, we could stand down for them to proceed to the registry to file it, otherwise if the court permits, we could proceed to argue it."
Moving the application for bail, the defence counsel, Mr. Rickey Tarfa, SAN, who led Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said: "My Lord, we have filed our application for bail this morning; we were served with the charges yesterday afternoon. Subject to your Lordship's convenience and that of the prosecuting counsel, my Lord, we are ready to move the application."
Tarfa subsequently applied for the accused persons to be admitted to bail pending the trial. He asked the court to grant them the bail on the most liberal terms.
According to him the accused persons have been on administrative bail and they have never violated any of the terms of bail, adding that the accused have reported to the police on 37 occasions.
But Awomolo in opposing the application for bail reminded the court that Lawan was charged with offences punishable with seven years in prison.
He said: "There is the likelihood of his committing the same offence while on bail; they did not give an undertaking that when they are allowed to return to the National Assembly that they would not be members of any committee and obtain bribe.
"The right to liberty is not absolute as guaranteed by the constitution under Section 35. The accused persons were part and parcel of the enactment of the ICPC Act in year 2000 they know the intention of the law and still got involved in it."
Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi after hearing the arguments of the parties adjourned to February 8th for ruling on the bail application and ordered that the accused persons be remanded in Kuje prisons.
The bribe money was allegedly collected from Otedola to remove his company, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd from the list of companies indicted in the fuel subsidy scam.
They were charged for contravening the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act.
An Abuja High Court sitting before Justice Mudashiru Oniyanagi had granted the federal government the permission to prefer a criminal charge under Section 185 (b) of the Criminal Procedure Code against Lawan and his co-accused person, who is an assistant director at the National Assembly.
The seven-count charge was filed by the director of public prosecutions at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs Olufunlayo Fatunde.
At the wake of the oil subsidy crisis, the House of Representatives set up an ad hoc-committee headed by Lawan to probe the oil subsidy regime.
The committee indicted some oil companies and individuals of short-changing the subsidy regime to the tune of N1.7trn.