…Accuse EFCC of abuse of court process
…As court fixes tomorrow for ruling
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The immediate past Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, who is facing 18-count corruption charge, yesterday asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to suspend her trial.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had on March 23, arraigned the former HoS and eight others over their alleged involvement in money laundering and Duty Tour Allowance (DTA) fraud.
In the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/60/2020, EFCC, further accused the ex-HoS of collecting kick-backs on contracts while she was in service.
According to the anti-graft agency, aside collecting Estacodes and ticket fees for journeys not embarked on, the erstwhile HoS, collaborated with her co-defendants to disguise the genuine ownership of funds they diverted into accounts of various private companies.
Other Defendants that were also charged over the alleged fraud that was to the tune of about N500million, included a civil servant who was identified as the alter ego of some of the companies, Garba Umar, as well as Oyo-Ita’s personal assistant, Ubong Okon Effiok.
The six companies; Frontline Ace Global Services Ltd, Asanaya Projects Limited, Slopes International Limited, Gooddeal International Limited, U & U Global Services Limited and Prince Mega Logistics Limited, were equally listed as Defendants in the charge.
All the Defendants had entered plea of not guilty to the charge, even as the court granted them bail pending the determination of the charge against them.
Meanwhile, at the resumed proceedings in the matter on Tuesday, all the Defendants, through their respective lawyers, applied for their trial to be adjourned sine-die (indefinitely), alleging that EFCC engaged in gross abuse of the judicial process.
The defence lawyers – Mr. Paul Erokoro, SAN, Chitto Veronica, Augustine Amanukwa and Okechukwu Ajunwa- alleged that EFCC had despite the pendency of the matter, gone before another court and obtained an order that froze bank accounts of some of the Defendants.
“The bank accounts of the 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants were frozen. We made an enquiry to confirm where the order was made and we discovered that it was not from this court”, Ajunwa told the court.
Confirming the development, Oyo-Ita’s lawyer, Erokoro, SAN, applied for the trial to be adjourned indefinitely “till prosecution provides to the court, evidence that they have taken steps to correct this error and that they are now prepared to prosecute this matter in one Court”, he added.
The Defendant said they were not disposed to continue with the case in the face of the alleged abuse of court process by the EFCC.
Responding, the Prosecution counsel, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, admitted that the agency secured an interim forfeiture order against some of the Defendants. He told the court that there are two separate charges marked FHC/ABJ/CR/60/20 and FHC/ABJ/CR/61/20, relating to the alleged offence that was committed by the Defendants.
Abubakar said some bank accounts listed in the interim forfeiture application were mentioned in both charges pending before Justice Taiwo Taiwo and Justice Inyang Ekwo of the high court.
“The two cases emanated from the same case-file. But because of the number of the Defendants involved, the Prosecution decided to split the charges for ease of prosecution”, he added.
He said after the EFCC filed the application to freeze the bank accounts, the Chief Judge of the Court, assigned the matter to another judge, Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogubanjo to handle.
“It was the CJ that decided where to assign the application we filed at the Registry. We had no hand on the assignment of the case file. We also Indicated and exhibited the charge before this court and the one before Justice Ekwo, in our application.
“We submit that we did not engage in abuse of court process. We also did not file that application as a result of disrespect or lack of confidence in any Judge of this Court. We only did it in pursuance of our statutory duty and with uptmost transparency.
“We sincerely and unreservedly apologize to this court in the event that our action displeased this court. We have indeed affirmed our confidence in your lordship to do justice in this matter.
“We vehemently oppose the application from counsel to the 1st Defendant, Oyo-Ita, for adjornment sine-die. The application amounts to an application for stay of proceedings, which is agianst the letter and spirit of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015.
“Such an application will run contrary to section 19(2)(C) of the EFCC Act, 2004, which aligns with section 20(3) of the Money Laundering Prohibition 2011 as amended in 2012,” the prosecution counsel submitted.
After he had listened to both parties, Justice Taiwo adjourned to rule on whether he would continue the trial or not.
The court had earlier granted bail to the former HoS to the tune of N100m with two sureties in like sum, even as it gave N50m bail to both Umar and Effiok, with two sureties each in like sum.
It ordered the Defendants to surrender their international passports to the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court, pending the determination of the charge against them.