The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Lagos Zonal office, on Friday, March 1, 2019, re-arraigned the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Paul Usoro, SAN, before Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos on a 10-count charge bordering on money laundering to the tune of N1,410,000,000 (One Billion, Four Hundred and Ten Million Naira).
Usoro was charged along with Nsikan Nkan, Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance; Mfon Udomah, Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State; Uwemedimo Nwoko, Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State and Margaret Ukpe, who are all at large.
The defendant was first arraigned before Justice M.S. Hassan on Monday, December 18, 2018 before the case was transferred to Justice Aikawa.
During the December 18, 2018 proceedings, Usoro’s counsel, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, had told the court that the defendant had written to the Chief Judge, CJ, Federal High Court, seeking to transfer the matter to either Uyo in Akwa Ibom or Abuja.
He had also told the court that if the case would be heard in Lagos, the matter should be re-assigned to another Judge.
Olanipekun had further prayed the court to await the decision of the CJ before the defendant would take his plea.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Paul Usoro, SAN, Emmanuel Udom (currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution), Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko (still at large), Nsikan Linus Nkan, Commissioner of Finance, Akwa Ibom State (still at large), Mfon Jacobson Udomah, Accountant-General, Akwa Ibom State, (still at large) and Margaret Thompson Ukpe (still at large) sometime in 2015 in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired amongst yourselves to commit an offence, to wit: conversion of the sum of N1,410,000,000 (One Billion, Four Hundred and Ten Million Naira), property of the Government of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity to wit: criminal breach of trust and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.”
The defendant pleaded “not guilty” to the charge when it was read to him.
In view of his plea, the prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, asked the court for a trial date and urged the court to remand Usoro in prison.
Counsel for the defendant, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, however, informed the court that the defence had a pending bail application.
“My lord, it is the same bail application before Justice Hassan,” he added.
He, therefore, urged the court to grant his client bail.
Oyedepo, in his response, objected to Adedipe’s prayers, arguing that “the defence has to file a fresh application for bail due to the fact that the case is no longer before Justice Hassan.”
In his short ruling, Justice Aikawa held that he would adopt the bail terms and conditions given to the defendant by Justice Hassan.
The Judge said: “I hereby grant the defendant bail in the sum of N250 million, with one surety in like sum.
“The surety shall be an owner of a landed property within the jurisdiction of the court and all titled documents of the property shall be deposited to the court registrar.
“Or the surety shall be a civil servant who has attained the level of a Director and shall present his or her credentials to the court for verification.
“The defendant shall deposit his international passport with the court registrar.”
Justice Aikawa also ordered that the perfection of the bail must be done in two weeks, adding that “the defendant shall be released to the counsel to the defendant, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, pending the perfection of his bail conditions”.
Oyedepo, afterwards, applied for a warrant for the arrest of Nwoko, Nkan, Udomah and Ukpe, so as to compel their appearances in court in the “interest of justice”.
The defence opposed the prayer, arguing that the individuals the prosecution sought to apply warrant of arrest against were not charged, but merely stated in the charge and that only Usoro was charged.
Justice Aikawa, however, issued the warrant of arrest against the individuals mentioned by the prosecution and adjourned for commencement of trial.