Alleged N4bn Fraud: You’ve a case to answer, court tells ex-Gov Obiano

… declines to quash charge against him, fixes June 24 for trial

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, declined to quash the nine-count money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against the immediate past Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano.

The court, in a ruling that was delivered by trial Justice Inyang Ekwo, said it was satisfied that the erstwhile governor has a case to answer, adding that it has the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the charge against him.

While dismissing as unmeritoruos, issues the defendant raised to challenge his trial, Justice Ekwo fixed June 24 to commence full-blown hearing of the case.

The EFCC had in a counter-affidavit it filed before the court, maintained that it has gathered sufficient evidence to secure the conviction of the former governor.

In the affidavit that was deposed to by one Habu Fari, EFCC told the court that the proof of evidence it adduced before it, established a prima facie case that would warrant the defendant to face his trial.

“Contrary to the depositions contained in paragraphs 5 (v) and (vi) of the defendant’s affidavit, the charge and the proof of evidence disclosed a prima facie case and linked the defendant with the allegations constituted in the charge,” the Commission stated.

Besides, it asked the court to dismiss Obiano’s contention that his trial ought to be stopped since the Anambra state government had categorically stated that its funds were not missing.

Obiano had informed the trial court that the Anambra state government has already taken the matter before the Court of Appeal.

While countering the claim, the EFCC argued that since Anambra state government was not listed as a defendant in Obiano’s case, it lacked the legal right to challenge the proceedings before the trial court.

“That the deposition contained in paragraph 5 (xi) of the affidavit in support of the motion, Anambra state government is not a defendant in the instant proceedings and the defendant is not Anambra state.

“The appeal alluded to, have no bearing or relationship with the instant charge,” EFCC added.

The agency further argued that contrary to Obiano’s claim, the charge against him was not borne out of malice or aimed to witch-hunt him.

“Contrary to the deposition in paragraphs, 5(xii), (xii), (xiv), (xv), (v) (xvii) and (xviii), the instant charge is brought bonafide, initiated through due legal process, devoid of witch-hunting, precise, unassailable and borne out of the process of a serious investigation as a call to duty to fight economic and financial crimes.

“That the counts constituted in the charge all border on money laundering which this honorable court has exclusive jurisdiction to try,” EFCC averred.

The prosecution counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, SAN, while urging the court to okay the ex-governor for trial, stressed that the main issue in the charge was the diversion of funds that were earmarked as Security Votes.

He argued that Security Votes could be probed when misappropriated.

In his ruling on Thursday, Justice Ekwo upheld EFCC’s argument.

It will be recalled that Obiano, who piloted the affairs of Anmabra State from March 2014 to March 2022, was first arrested at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, on March 17, 2022, as he was preparing to board a flight to Houston, the United States of America.

The arrest took place few hours after he left office as governor.

The EFCC alleged that he looted over N4billion from the Anambra State treasury.

The agency alleged that the funds were siphoned from Anambra State’s Security Vote Account, converted into dollars and handed to Obiano in cash.

For instance, the prosecuting agency told the court that from March 2014 to March 2022 when Obiano was in office as governor, between February 16, 2018 and March 9, 2018, in Abuja, made cash transaction through a non-financial institution by instructing one Uzuegbuna Okagbue, his then Chief Protocol Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, to transfer over 223million from the Anambra State Government Security Vote Account, into Connought International Services Limited, which was converted to the equivalent of $600,000.00 and collected same in cash from one Ayuba Tanko.

He was said to had between October 30, 2018 and November 13, 2018, made cash transaction through a non-financial institution by instructing Okagbue to transfer the sum of N95m from Anambra State Government Security Vote, into the account of S. Y. Panda, which was converted to $260 and handed to him in cash.

However, upon his arraignment on January 24, the former governor pleaded not guilty to the charge, even as he was released on bail.

As part of his bail conditions, the court seized his international passport.

EFCC told the court that it has lined up 15 witnesses to testify in the matter.

Meanwhile, before the EFCC could open the case by calling its witnesses, the former governor filed a had motion wherein he contended that the court in Abuja was bereft of the requisite jurisdiction to try him over offences that were allegedly committed in Anambra State.

He prayed the court to dismiss the charge against him for want of territorial jurisdiction.

One of the counts in the charge against him, marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/15/2024, read: “That you, Chief Willie Maduabuchi Obiano, whilst being the executive governor of Anambra State of Nigeria between March 2014 – March 2022, sometime between 7th February, 2018 to 18th February, 2019 in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, indirectly transferred through Mr Willie Nwokoye, your then principal private secretary, the sum of N156,800.00 only from the Anambra State Government Security Vote Account No: 5030050875 domiciled in Fidelity Bank Pic into the Fidelity Bank Ple Account No: 6060018819 belonging to C.I. Patty Ventures Nigeria Limited (an entity that had no business relationship with the Anambra State Government), which funds were dissipated for purposes unrelated / unconnected with the security affairs of Anambra State, which you reasonably ought to have known that such funds formed part of the proceeds of your unlawful act, to wit: (Stealing and Corruption) and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) in 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.

The post Alleged N4bn Fraud: You’ve a case to answer, court tells ex-Gov Obiano appeared first on Vanguard News.