•Says I’m not guilty of EFCC’s allegations

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yesterday, docked a former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.

Okorocha, who piloted the affairs of Imo State from 2011 to 2019 was arraigned on a 17-count money laundering charge, alongside six others.

The other defendants in the charge dated January 24, are a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Anyim Nyerere Chinenye, as well as five companies- Naphtali International Limited, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Limited, Consolid Projects Consulting Limited, Pramif International Limited and Legend World Concepts Limited.

The charge against them borders on conspiracy and stealing.

EFCC alleged that the defendants conspired and diverted funds belonging to Imo State to the tune of about N2.9billion.

The anti-graft agency alleged that the defendants sequentially siphoned funds from the Imo State Government House account and Imo State Joint Local Government Project account, and diverted same into accounts of private firms for their personal use.

According to the prosecution, the defendants committed the alleged offense between October 2014 and February 2016.

However, the defendants took turns and pleaded not guilty to the charge.

“I understand the charge against me but I am not guilty my lord”, Okorocha replied from the dock after the charge was read to him before trial Justice Inyang Ekwo.

Meanwhile, shortly after the defendants took their plea, Okorocha’s lawyer, Mr. Okey Amaechi, SAN, prayed the court to release him on bail pending the determination of the case against him.

Amaechi further drew the attention of the court to the fact that his client was roughly arrested from his Abuja residence on May 24, by the EFCC.

“My lord, without a warrant of arrest from this court, they went into the house of the defendant who is a presidential aspirant. They broke into the house and arrested him in a Gestapo manner”, his lawyer lamented.

On his part, EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Gbolahan Latona, who did not respond to the complaint by Okorocha’s lawyer, however, asked for time to file a counter-affidavit to challenge his request for bail.

Mr. Latona told the court that the agency was vehemently opposed to the bail application, noting that Okorocha raised some issues that would require a response from the Commission.

Counsel to the other defendants, led by Mr. Oba Maduabuchi, SAN, and Darlington Ozurumba, equally urged the court to release their clients on bail.

While adjourning the matter till Tuesday to hear the bail applications, Justice Ekwo, remanded all the defendants in EFCC custody.

The court equally fixed November 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 for trial.

Okorocha, who is currently the Senator representing Imo West, had earlier declared his intention to contest for the presidency in the 2023 general elections.

He was however arrested by operatives of the agency, a few hours before the time his political party, the APC, was slated to screen its presidential aspirants.

The arrest of the former governor followed his alleged refusal to make himself available for trial.

EFCC accused him of deliberately evading service of the charge on him.

Earlier, Okorocha’s team of lawyers had approached the court to enforce his fundamental human rights.

In an application they filed on his behalf, they accused the anti-graft agency of violating his rights, insisting that his arrest and continued detention were illegal and unconstitutional.

Moreso, they alleged that Okorocha was being unnecessarily witch-hunted by the EFCC, stressing that his political ambition would be jeopardized unless the court intervened in the matter by ordering his immediate release on bail.

The court, in a ruling on May 27, rejected Okorocha’s ex-parte application for bail, even as it ordered him to go and put the EFCC on notice to enable it  file its response to it.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.