By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and Other Institutions, Herman Hembe and his deputy, Chris Ifeanyi Azubogu, yesterday, took fresh plea before an Abuja High Court sitting at Apo.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, re-docked them before Justice Peter Kekemeke, on a two-count charge bothering on fraud.
Specifically, EFCC, in the charge read in court, yesterday, alleged that the lawmakers had at sometime in October 2011, converted to their use, $4095 being money given to them by the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, as travelling allowance to Puncta Cana, Dominican Republic to attend a conference.
The anti-graft agency alleged that the accused persons pocketed the money though they did not attend the said conference.
It said their action ran contrary to section 308 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 2004 and is punishable under section 309 of the same code.
The re-arraignment of the two embattled lawmakers followed the decision of Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar to hands off the case owing to a petition written against him by the EFCC accusing him of bias in the prosecution of the case.
EFCC had while challenging the resolve of the former trial judge to handle the case objectively, queried why he allowed the accused persons to stand beside the dock and take their plea rather than stepping into the dock as required by the extant procedure in prosecution of such criminal cases.
Consequently, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory Judiciary, Justice Lawal Gummi reassigned the matter.
Meanwhile, when the matter was mentioned, yesterday, prosecuting counsel, Onjefu Obe, made an oral application for the case to commence de-novo in line with the Criminal Procedure Code, CPC.
Though, both counsel to the accused persons, Mr. Jibrin Okutepa (SAN) and Emeka Etiaba, did not object to the prosecution’s prayer, they, nonetheless, urged the court to allow the lawmakers on the bail terms earlier granted to them by Justice Umar, a request that was accordingly granted.
After the two accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charge, Justice Kekemeke adjourned the matter till January 23 and 24, 2013 for accelerated hearing.