The trial of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), has been transfered to another judge by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati.
Usoro was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over an alleged N1.4 billion fraud.
It was learnt yesterday that following Usoro’s letter to the CJ, his case has been withdrawn from Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos and re-assigned to Justice Chuka Obiozor of the same court.
The EFCC had on December 18, 2018, arraigned Usoro on 10 counts before Justice Hassan, who admitted him to a N250million bail on the same day.
Before the arraignment, Usoro, through his legal team, led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), had informed Justice Hassan of a December 17, 2018 letter, which he wrote to the Chief Judge seeking the transfer of his case to another judge for an undisclosed reason.
Olanipekun said Usoro would want the case transferred to either Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, or Abuja or that if the case would remain in Lagos, it should be transferred to “any other honourable judge apart from my noble Lord.”
Olanipekun described Usoro’s request as innocuous, arguing that he had a right to make the request.
He urged Justice Hassan to wait for the decision of the CJ on Usoro’s request before proceeding with the case.
However, the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, opposed Olanipekun, describing his request as a temporary stay of proceedings, which, he said, Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 had outlawed.
“My Lord cannot act in anticipation of a yet-to-be-taken administrative decision of the Chief Judge to keep this matter in limbo,” Oyedepo argued.
In his ruling, Justice Hassan agreed with Oyedepo and ordered that Usoro be arraigned.
After pleading not guilty to the charges, Justice Hassan admitted the NBA president to bail and then adjourned till February 5, 2019 for trial.
In the charges, the EFCC claimed that Usoro converted and laundered N1.4 billion in connivance with Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State.
Emmanuel was, however, not listed as a defendant in the charge, as the EFCC indicated that he is “currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution”.
Also mentioned in the body of the charges were one Nsikan Nkan, described as Commissioner for Finance, Akwa Ibom State; one Mfon Udomah, described as the Accountant General of Akwa Ibom State; one Uwemedimo Nwoko, described as the Akwa Ibom State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; and Margaret Ukpe, all of whom were said to be at large.
The EFCC claimed that Usoro in connivance with the others mentioned conspired among themselves to commit the offence sometime in 2015 “within the jurisdiction of this honourable court”.
The anti-graft agency claimed that the N1.4bn allegedly converted and laundered by the defendants belonged to the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Counsel for the EFCC, Oyedepo, who signed the charge sheet, said in the charge sheet the offence allegedly committed by the NBA President was contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
He added that the SAN is liable to be punished under Section 15(3) of the same Act.