The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Friday re-arraigned the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro, on 10 counts of alleged N1.4bn fraud.
Usoro was first arranged before Justice Muslim Hassan of a Federal High Court in Lagos on December 18, 2018.
Charged alongside Usoro are Akwa Ibom Governor, Emmanuel Udom, who is described in the charge as being “currently constitutionally immune from prosecution.”
Others charged are the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mfon Udomah; Akwa Ibom State Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko and Margaret Ukpe, said to be at large.
Usoro had pleaded not guilty to the charges, but the case before Justice Hassan was subsequently transferred to another judge, Justice Chuka Obiozor, following an application by the defence counsel.
On February 14, Justice Obiozor in a ruling 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 Rilwan Aikawa, who is the third judge before whom the charge is presented.
After the 10-count charge was read to Usoro, he pleaded not guilty.
The defence counsel, Ifedayo Adedipe, made an application for the defendant to continue with the earlier bail granted by the previous judge.
This application was however opposed by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, who argued that having applied that the case be transferred from Justice Hassan, the defence cannot, therefore, benefit from the bail granted by the 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 is peripheral to a trial as it does not affect the substance of the trial, adding that the court has the discretion to depart from or adopt the earlier terms granted.
In view of the circumstances, the Judge held that the conditions imposed by the previous, Mr Hassan, be adopted.
The court admitted the defendant to bail in the sum of N250m with one surety in like sum.
The court also ordered that the surety must be the owner of 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 court’s registry and also deposit his/her international passport with the court’s registry.
The court held that “the above terms are hereby adopted save to add that where the surety is a civil servant, his credentials must be verified by the court’s registry.”
He adjourned the case until March 18 and 19 for trial.
Meanwhile, the court ordered a bench warrant of arrest against the defendants said to be at large as prayed by the Oyedepo.
Usoro was alleged to have conspired to convert N1.4bn, the property of Akwa Ibom State government, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of 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.