By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
Erstwhile Chairman and Secretary of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on fuel subsidy probe, Farouk Lawan and Mr Boniface Emenalo, Monday, failed in their bid to quash the 7-count criminal charge that was preferred against them by the IndependentCorrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC.
Dismissing an application the embattled lawmakers filed before an Abuja High Court at Maitama, seeking to be discharged and acquitted of the allegation that they demanded and collected bribe from the Chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd, Femi Otedola, as an inducement to remove the name of his company from the report of the House of Reps Ad-hoc committee on Monitoring of fuel subsidy regime, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi, yesterday, maintained that they have a criminal case to answer.
Justice Oniyangi said he was convinced that the ICPC has placed sufficient materials before the court to warrant the prosecution of the embattled lawmakers, noting that the court has the requisite jurisdiction to entertain and decide the matter.
Besides, the court held that the proof of evidence before the court established a prima-facie case that would warrant explanations from the accused persons. “It is the conclusion of this court that the charge as constituted is competent and the court has the jurisdiction to entertain the suit. The application is hereby dismissed as the accused persons have a case to answer,” the judge added.
Consequently, the court fixed June 19 to commence hearing on the substantive case against the lawmakers.
Meantime, Farouk and Emenalo had in their dismissed application, begged the court to terminate their trial on the premise that the ICPC failed to adduce any credible evidence to warrant their prosecution.
They had through their lawyer, Mr Ricky Tarfa, SAN, insisted that the ICPC was unable to establish a prima-facie case against them, contending that going by the totality of the proof of evidence before the trial court, vis-à-vis the allegation, the court ought not to have granted the anti-graft agency the leave to prefer the charge against them, “since the prosecution failed to provide adequate material necessary for the judge to exercise discretion in favour of the application for leave.”
Arguing that the foundation of the case against them was not legally laid, Farouk and Emenalo, told the court that the prosecutor failed to comply with the provisions of section 185 (1)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Code, CPC, which they said required that statements of witnesses be attached to the application to prefer charge.
Likewise, they queried why the prosecuting agency refused to tender the written statement of Otedola who it listed as one of the star witnesses that will testify in the matter.
They pleaded with the court to suspend hearing on the substantive case pending the determination of their preliminary objection, just as they challenged the jurisdiction of the court to try them over a charge they said was legally incompetent and baseless.
Specifically, ICPC alleged that the accused persons collected an aggregate sum of $3million, with a view to ensuring that Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd escaped prosecution even though the probe Committee had ab-initio found it culpable in fuel subsidy fraud.
The anti-graft agency maintained that the offence they committed was contrary to section 17 (1) (a), section 8(1) (a) (b) (ii), and section 23 (i) of the Corrupt practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under section 8 (1) 17 (1) and 23(3) of the same Act.
More so, the prosecuting commission alleged that Emenalo, while being a public officer, an Assistant Director and Clerk of the Committee on Education of the House of Reps, sometime in April 2012, while acting as the Secretary of the Ad-Hoc Committee, was offered gratification by Otedola but failed to report the offer to any officer of the ICPC or any police officer.
The accused persons had on February 1, pleaded not guilty to the charge and subsequently spent seven days at Kuje Prison where the court remanded them till their bail application was granted.
Justice Oniyangi on February 8 released them on bail after they deposited N10million each, as well as, produced two persons that stood surety for them in like sum.
Besides, the judge ordered them to surrender their international passports and other travelling documents to the court registrar, warning that they should not travel outside the shores of the country without the consent of the court.