The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Tuesday preferred fresh charges against a former Head of Service of the Federation, Mr Steve Oronsaye and five others, before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
The Street Journal recalls that Oronsaye and two others were earlier in July, 2015, arraigned on a 24-count charge over alleged fraud and money laundering amounting to N1.2bn, but with Tuesday’s filing of the amended charge, the initial 24-counts charge has increased to 35-counts, while the number of defendants increased from three to six.
The offences are punishable under Section 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006.
Two of the 24 counts read, “That you Stephen Oronsaye, Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina (now at large), Osarenkhoe Afe and Fedrick Hamilton Global Services Limited on about July 2, 2010 in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court collaborated in disguising the genuine nature of the sum of N161,472,000 derived from an illegal act to wit:
conducting procurement fraud by means of fraudulent and corrupt action, the contract extension of biometric enrolment purportedly awarded to Innovative Solutions Limited by Office of the Head of Service of the Federation without due process and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 14(1)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.
“That you, Stephen Oronsaye and Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina (now at large) on or about July 7, 2010 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, by false pretences and with intent to defraud, induced the delivery of the sum of N119,398,500 from the Federal Government of Nigeria to one Frederick Hamilton Global Services Ltd, purporting same to be contract sums for biometric data capture project, which you know to be illegal and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(1) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under Section 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006.”
At Tuesday’s sitting, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Adebisi Adeniyi, informed the court that he had filed an amended charge, and sought for an adjournment to serve the charge on three new co-defendants who have been included in the fresh charge.
The defendants in the amended charge are: Stephen Oronsaye (1st), Osarenkhoe Afe (2nd), Global Services Limited (3rd), Cluster Logistics Limited (4th), Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited (5th) and Drew Investment and Construction Company Limited.
Opposing the process of filing the amended charge, Oronsaye’s lawyer, Mr. Kola Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), argued that the prosecution cannot file an amended charge without a prior formal application to do so.
Ruling on the application, Justice Kolawole said the prosecution could bring an amended charge at the stage of the proceedings without the need to file any formal application for leave of court to do so.
He, however, criticized the prosecution’s sudden realization that it needed to file an amended charge when it was less than 24 hours to the date that had been fixed for the commencement of trial.
Consequently, Justice Kolawole adjourned the matter till November 25, 2015, to enable the prosecution to serve the fresh charges on the new co-defendants for them to take their pleas.
It would be recalled that the Oronsaye and the initial two accused persons all pleaded not guilty to the 24 counts preferred against them when they appeared before Justice Kolawole.
Shortly after their arraignment, Justice Kolawole released them to go home, Oronsaye on self-recognisance, pending the hearing of their bail application scheduled for July 21.
But the judge ordered that their release would be effective upon filing of a written undertaking by the defence counsel within 48 hours, and an assurance to produce the accused persons in court at the next hearing date.
The accused persons allegedly collaborated in defrauding the Federal Government to the tune of N118,992,201.6 under the guise of paying the money in tranches for the contract of biometric data capture project between March 2010 and December 2011.
The fraud was allegedly perpetrated through the award and payment for fake contracts to nine companies including, Innovative Solutions, Fredrick Hamilton Global Services, Xangee Technologies Limited, Fatideck Ventures, Obalando Nigeria Enterprises, Moshfad Enterprises and Fesbee Global Resources Limited.
Other companies through which the accused persons allegedly siphoned the money from the Federal Government included Jolance Integrated Concept Limited and M.OF Investment Limited.
One other person, who was allegedly involved in the fraud, Abdulrasheed Maina, was said to be on the run.
Maina was on Monday declared wanted by the EFCC.
The accused persons were charged under Section 14 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and section 1(1) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006.
EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Yusuf Aliyu, had urged the court to remand the accused persons in prison shortly after they took their pleas.
However, defence counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN) and Mr. Oluwole Aladedoye, opposed the application seeking to remand the accused in prison and urged the court to release them on bail.
Aladedoye had argued that in the event that the judge was not willing to grant the oral application for the bail made, the court should remand the accused persons in EFCC custody pending the hearing of their separate bail applications, adding that the EFCC had no space to accommodate them before the hearing of their bail applications.
Kolawole, however, overruled the EFCC motion by releasing them in the interim on the grounds that the EFCC had not indicated that the accused persons, particularly, Oronsaye, would flee, and had even granted the accused persons what it called administrative bail.
The judge held that he could not force the accused persons on the EFCC which said it could not accommodate them, but under the principle of “interim judicial reprieve” the court possessed the power to release the accused persons pending the hearing of the bail applications.
Justice Kolawole adjourned the case to November 25 for trial.