Alleged N1.4bn Fraud: Court Grants NBA President, Usoro 250m Bail

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Paul Usoro
Paul Usoro

•  Orders arrest of Akwa Ibom State officials

By Davidson Iriekpen

A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday granted the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), 250 million bail.

Usoro was re-arraigned on a 10-count charge bordering on N1.4 billion fraud preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

He was alleged to have conspired to convert the sum of N1.4 billion, property of Akwa Ibom State Government, which sum he and other defendants reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity.

The anti-graft agency had first arraigned the NBA boss before Justice Muslim Hassan on December18, 2018.

Also named in the charge, is the incumbent Governor of Akwa Ibom, Governor Emmanuel Udom, who is described in the charge as being “currently constitutionally immune from prosecution.”

Others charged are: Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; state Accountant-General, Mfon Udomah; Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko and Margaret Ukpe.

The aforementioned defendants are said to be at large.

He had pleaded not guilty to the charges, but the case before Justice Hassan was subsequently transferred to another judge, Justice Chuka Obiozor, following application by defence counsel.

On February14, Justice Obiozor in a ruling, had personally 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 Justice Rilwan Aikawa, who is the third judge before whom the charge is presented.

Yesterday, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo appeared for the EFCC while Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) appeared for the defendant.

The 10-count charge was read to Usoro and he also pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Defence counsel then made an application for the defendant to continue with the earlier bail granted by the previous judge, (Hassan)

This application was opposed by prosecution who argued that having applied that the case be transferred from Hassan, the defence could not therefore, benefit from the bail granted by 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, Justice Aikawa, held that it was the court’s view  that bail was peripheral to a trial as it did not affect the substance of the trial, adding that the court had a discretion to depart from or adopt the earlier terms granted.

In view of the circumstances, the judge, held that the conditions imposed by his learned brother, Justice Hassan, be adopted.

The court admitted the defendant to bail in the sum of N250million with one surety in like sum.

The court also ordered that the surety must be the owner of a 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 courts registry and also deposit his/her international passport with the courts registry.

The court held that the above terms were thereby adopted save to add that where the surety is a civil servant, his credentials must be verified by the courts registry.

The court also adopted the terms granted by Justice Hassan, and released Usoro to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Effiong B. Effiong, pending the perfection of his bail terms.

Meanwhile, Oyedepo then informed the court that he had an innocuous application to make, and urged the court to issue a bench warrant for the arrest and production in court of the persons mentioned in the body of the charge and who were 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.

He adjourned the case until March 18 and 19 for trial.

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 the sum of N1.4 billion, property of the state government, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an 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.