.. court seizes his international passport, bars him from travelling abroad
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA–The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Tuesday, granted bail to the detained former governor of Imo state, Rochas Okorocha, to the tune of N500million with one surety in like sum.
Trial Justice Inyang Ekwo okayed Okorocha’s release on bail, after he dismissed a counter-affidavit the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, filed against him.
EFCC had through its lawyer, Mr. O. C. Ugwu, urged the court to allow the former governor to remain in custody, alleging that he posed a flight risk.
The prosecution maintained that Okorocha not only breached the administrative bail it earlier granted to him, but equally made himself unaccessible, a situation that led to his forceful arrest on May 24.
It told the court that the erstwhile governor, who is facing a 17-count money laundering charge, has the capacity to interfere with some of its proposed witnesses.
“My lord, on two consecutive occasions, the 1st defendant (Okorocha) frustrated his arraignment by refusing to appear in court,” EFCC’s lawyer added.
However, counsel to the defendant, Mr. Solomon Umoh, SAN, assured the court that his client would be available to face his trial.
The defence lawyer stressed that his client, being a responsible citizen and a presidential aspirant, would not conduct himself in any manner that would undermine the sanctity of the court.
He, therefore, begged the court to release him on bail on self recognizance or in the most liberal terms, noting that the charge against him contained bailable offences.
More so, Umoh, SAN, argued that it was within his client’s constitutional right to be presumed innocent until the allegations against him are established by the EFCC.
“My lord, the applicant is a man that is well known in this society, therefore , the prosecution’s contention that he could not be reached for the charge to be served on him, is not true as he could have been served through subbstituted means,” Umoh added.
In his short ruling, trial Justice Ekwo said he was minded to exercise his discretion in favour of the defendant.
He ordered the defendant to produce one surety that must be a responsible citizen and owner of a landed property in Abuja worth the total bail sum.
The trial judge held that the surety must deposit the original title documents of the property with Registrar of the court for verification, even as he ordered Okorocha to surrender all his travelling documents and not leave the country without permission.
He directed the Court’s Registrar to write to the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, notifying it about seizure of the defendant’s passport and the need for him to always secure permission before travelling out of the country.
The court held that the defendant must remain in custody of the EFCC, pending the perfection of all his bail conditions.
Likewise, the court, also gave bail to the 2nd defendant in the matter, Mr. Anyim Nyerere Chinenye, who is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, on terms of the administrative bail the EFCC earlier handed to him.
Justice Ekwo subsequently adjourned the matter till November 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 for trial.
Okorocha, who piloted affairs of Imo state from 2011 to 2019, was arraigned on Monday alongside Mr. Chinenye and five companies, Naphtali International Limited, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Limited, Consolid Projects Consulting Limited, Pramif International Limited, and Legend World Concepts Limited.
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 alleged offence was committed between October 2014 and February 2016.
However, the defendants, took turns and pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Okorocha, who is currently the Senator representing Imo West, earlier declared his intention to contest for presidency in the 2023 general elections.
He was however arrested by operatives of the agency, few hours to the time his political party, the APC, initially slated to screen its presidential aspirants.
Arrest of the former governor followed his alleged refusal to make himself available for trial.
EFCC alleged that he deliberately evaded service of the charge on him.