By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—-The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, gave the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the nod to dock the erstwhile Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, on an amended 15-count criminal charge bordering on alleged N2.9billion fraud.
The former NBC DG is facing trial alongside the Director of Finance and Accounts, Mr. Patrick Areh, Mr. Basil Udotai and Babatunji Amure.
Trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole slated December 13 to take plea of the defendants who are currently on administrative bail.
The trial which was initially scheduled to commence on Monday could not proceed owing to the inability of the EFCC to serve the 3rd and 4th defendants (Udotai and Amure) with copies of the amended charge before the court.
EFCC lawyer, Mr. Maaji Dabi, told the court that the prosecution found it difficult to reach the two defendants, even as he requested for five days adjournment to enable him to perfect the service process.
However, the two defendants who were present in court, told the trial judge that they had already obtained copies of the charge from the 1st and 2nd defendants.
The duo, through their lawyers, Mr. A. N. Ikoro and Mr. F. I. Chude, said they were ready to wave the issue of service since they already have copies of the charge against them.
Similarly, counsel to the 1st and 2nd defendants, Mr. S. I. Ameh, SAN and Mr. James Onoja, SAN, urged the court to compel the EFCC to allow the accused persons to enter their plea to the 15-count amended charge.
They said they had equally filed and served the prosecution with their separate bail applications.
Meantime, in a bench ruling, Justice Kolawole wondered why the EFCC applied for an adjournment when the 2nd and 3rd defendants, who were in court on their own, already have copies of the charge dated October 14 but filed on October 21.
“It seems there may be more to this issue than meets the eye” Justice Kolawole noted.
He said there was need for the court to ensure that the anti-graft agency does not abuse the prosecutorial powers imbued on the Attorney General of the Federation under section 174 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, to re-arrest the defendants.
Consequently, Justice Kolawole ordered that EFCC must not re-arrest the defendants pending their arraignment.
“In the absence of any information that the defendants breached their administrative bail, this court, under its inherent powers as enshrined in section 6(6) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, hereby order that the defendants shall remain on administrative bail.
“The complainant shall not exercise its powers to revoke the bail it earlier granted to the defendants, especially the 1st and 2nd defendants”, the Judge held.
Justice Kolawole also directed the prosecution to furnish the 2nd and 3rd defendants with copies of the charge at its office on November 30.
It said the two defendants must not be detained at the EFCC office beyond 4pm on the said date.
The matter was subsequently adjourned for arraignment and hearing of the defendants’ motions for bail.
Meanwhile, some of the charges against them read: “That you Emeka Mba (While being the Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission), Patrick Areh (While being the Director finance and Accounts of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission), Basil Udotai (trading in the name and style of Technology Advisors) and Babatunji Amure (trading in the name of style of Divine Partners) on or about the 15th day of August 2015 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, conspired amongst yourselves to commit an illegal act to wit: laundering the sum of N2, 899, 723, 500.00 (Two Billion, Eight Hundred and Ninety nine Million, Seven Hundred and Twenty Three Thousand, Five Hundred Naira) and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15(2) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011, as amended, and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act.
“That you Basil Udotai, trading in the name and style of Technology Advisors, on or about the 19th day of August, 2015, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did transfer the sum of N390, 000, 000. 00 (Three Hundred and Ninety Million Naira) from the Zenith Bank Plc Account number 1011923722 (in the name of Technology Advisors) into the Zenith Bank account of Kalaz Ventures (a Bureau De Change) for the benefit of Patrick Areh (while being the Director Finance and Accounts of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission) when you reasonably knew that the funds formed part of the proceeds of your unlawful activity to wit: fraud and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15(2) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act.
Udotai was further alleged to have on or about September 10, 2015, transferred N20m from the Zenith Bank Plc Account number 1011923722 in the name of Technology Advisors into Zenith Bank account of Azuku Inter Global for the benefit of Patrick Areh.