Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt
Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt has granted bail to the Managing Director of Saipem Contracting, Mr. Walter Peviana, and Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe with N500million.
On January 11, the duo were remanded in the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre over an alleged conspiracy to defraud the Rivers State Government the sum of $130 million.
At the resumed hearing yesterday for bail consideration, the trial Judge, Justice Okogbule Gbasam, granted bail to the defendants in the matter filed by the state government as registered in suit number PHC/3106/CR/2021.
The prosecution in the matter is the Government of Rivers State, while the defendants are Saipem SPA (1st defendant); Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited (2nd defendant); Mr. Walter Peviana (3rd defendant); Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe (4th defendant); Giandomenico Zingali (5th defendant); Vitto Testaguzza (6th defendant), and Davide Anelli (7th defendant).
Earlier, the counsel for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants, Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), and the counsel for the 4th defendant, relying on Sections 194 and 169 of the Administration of Criminal Justice and Sections 35 and 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, pleaded for the bail of their clients.
The counsel told the court to grant the defendants bail considering the facility where they were detained, explaining that their clients could fall ill following the spread of the COVID-19.
Ajumogobia urged the court to grant his client, Peviana, bail owing that he is the “managing director of one of the largest company in West Africa (Saipem),” and would not jump bail.
The counsel pleaded that the court has the power to grant bail to the defendants.
But the applicant counsel, Godwin Obla, (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the bail application for the defendants.
Obla argued that the money involved in the allegation, if converted to Nigeria currency, would amount to N32billion, which he said is about 6.7 percent of the total state budget for the year.
He argued that the 4th defendant counsel filed application of bail a day to the client arraignment in court, saying the application did not comply with the law, hence, the court should dismiss such.
The counsel further argued that: “It shows the seriousness of the crime the accused persons were charged with and reason why the accused should not be granted bail.”
Ruling on the bail application, Justice Gbasam noted the error in filing a bail application before the defendant appears in court.
The Judge said: “The anticipation is that bail should come before arraignment, arrest or remand. The application made on January 10, 2022, was merely speculation and presumption. The 4th defendant should have filed his application after the case has been brought to court.”
He stated that the application was null and void.
Justice Gbasam, who also expressed the discretion of the court in granting bail to the 2nd and 4th defendant, ordered that they should present two sureties each, and surety for the 2nd defendant must be a principle officer of the 1st defendant (Saipem), and must own a landed property in the state with Certificate of Ownership.
Also, as the bail condition, the Judge said the defendants should deposit their international passports to the court and that sureties must deposit original papers of their landed property in the court.
However, the court adjourned the matter till February 2, 3 and 4, 2022, for accelerated hearing.
Speaking with THISDAY outside the courtroom, counsel for the applicant, Obla, explained that: “The matter came up today (yesterday) for plea as previously scheduled by the court, and the plea of the defendants were all taken to the 15 count-charge, and they moved their application for bail.
“We opposed the application for bail but also left a window for the Judge to also exercise his discretion.
“He has now granted bail to the 3rd and 4th defendants in the sum of N500million each, two sureties to provide landed property, the surety for the 3rd defendant must be a managerial level with the second defendant.
“The case has been adjourned till February 2, 3, and 4, 2022, for hearing on the day-by-day basis.”
Also speaking, counsel for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants, Ajumogobia, lauded the court for granting bail to his clients, but noted the high conditions of the bail.
He said: “Bail is at the discretion of the court. We made an appeal that the court should issue conditions that are not too stringent. I think the court was gracious enough to issue difficult conditions, but we will try and see how we can meet those conditions-I mean N500million is not a small amount of money for the two of the defendants.
“But at least the challenge now is to meet those conditions for bail so that they can come out of the custody.”