Rep. Nicholas Mutu, Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) and Gas Resources, on Monday, appeared in a Federal High Court, Abuja, over alleged graft of N320.1 million.
Mutu was arraigned before Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo on 11-count charge by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
News Agency of Nigeria reports that while the EFCC is the plaintiff, the lawmaker, Airworld Technologies Ltd. and Oyien Homes Ltd. were 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively.
EFCC counsel, Ekele Iheanacho, told court that the commission filed 11 counts amended charge against Mutu and urged judge to direct that the charges be read to the defendant for his plea to be taken.
After the charges were read to him, the lawmaker pleaded not guilty.
Iheanacho then applied for a trial date and asked the court to remand the defendant in prison custody.
Defence Counsel, P.I.N. Ikwueto, SAN, however, pleaded to the court to release the defendant for him but the request was vehemently opposed by the prosecution.
But Iheanacho narrated how the defendant had been evasive and refused to report to the commission’s office in line with administrative bail granted him on Aug. 16, 2018, after his arrest on allegations bordering on corruption.
He argued that since the bail was taken by his lawyer then, Anthony Ikoli, SAN, the defendant refused to report to the commission’s office despite several demands for him to report.
The prosecution also informed court that although at a point, the defendant’s sureties were arrested for them to show cause why they should not forfeit the bail sum, Mutu failed to turn up “until today’s hearing because of the fear of the warrant of arrest.”
According to Iheanacho, his coming today was not based on voluntariness but the fear that warrant of arrest will be issued against him.
“My Lord, before this honourable court, the defendant is an accused person,” he said.
He reminded that the case had been heard at least three times before the judge and that on the last adjourned date on Jan. 20, he applied for issuance of warrant of arrest on the legislator.
The anti-graft commission’s lawyer insisted that the lawmaker did not deserve any leniency from the court has acted in a manner that did not deserve the court’s favourable discretion.
The defendant’s counsel, Ikwueto, however, said in the last adjourned date, he pleaded that he would produce the defendant in court and he did.
He urged the court to discountenance the prosecution’s application and release Mutu to him on recognition, pending the hearing of the bail application.
He assured that his client would always be in court at every adjourned date.
Justice Giwa-Ogunbanjo, however, noted that since there was no motion for bail in the court record, Ikwueto should file the bail application before the close of work.
The judge, who took into consideration the fear expressed by the prosecution on the availability of the defendant in court, also considered the defence counsel’s argument.
She noted that bail is at the discretion of the court and that the offence for which the defendant was standing trial was bailable.
The judge then granted the plea of the defence counsel and ordered that the defendant should continue to enjoy the previous administrative bail granted to him by the EFCC during the investigation.
“I will give him the benefit of doubt,” she ruled.
Justice Giwa-Ogunbanjo ordered that Ikwueto file the application for bail and serve the prosecution before the next adjourned date.
The judge also said that she would hear the bail application first in the next adjourned date.
She then adjourned hearing in the matter till Feb. 25, March 4 and March 5, April 22 and April 23 and May 5 and May 6.
However, there was a drama outside the court’s premises as EFCC operatives rearrested Mutu and whisked him away to their office.
NAN reports that among the 11 count charges against Mutu is that while being the Chairman, House Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission between Aug. 2014 and Aug. 2016, the lawmaker did procure Airworld Technologies Ltd to conceal of the sum of N320,159, 689.63 to be paid by Starline Consultancy Services Ltd when he reasonably ought to have known that the said sum of money formed part of proceeds of corruption, gratification and fraudulent acquisition of property contrary to the Money Laundering Prohibition Act’’.