Court varies bail conditions for NBA chairman accused of N1.4bn fraud

A Federal High Court on Wednesday varied the bail conditions of embattled Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro SAN who is standing trial for an N1.4 billion fraud, granting him leave to travel outside Nigeria.

Usoro had through his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, intimated the court about a motion dated 3rd April 2019, seeking the permanent release of his client’s passport to allow attendants to his foreign engagements.

While urging the court to grant the motion, Olanipekun SAN told the court that the application was carefully worded in line with the circumstance of the case.

He also allayed fears about the possibility of the NBA president unavailability to stand for his trial, adding that in case of any clash between trial date and his travel date, the trial date will prevail.

Tribune Online recalls that Usoro is facing a 10 counts charge levelled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC.

The anti-graft agency accused him of laundering N1.4 billion belonging to Akwa Ibom State Government, a charge the defendant had consistently denied, saying the money was part of his legitimately earned professional fees.

According to the EFCC, Usoro converted and laundered the money in connivance with the Governor of his state, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State.

Udom was however not listed as a defendant in the charge, as the EFCC indicated that he is “currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution.”

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Responding to the motion, EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo said he will not be opposed to the granting of the motion by the court based on Olanipekun’s undertaking that the trial date is sacrosanct.

Oyedepo, however, urged the court to mandate the defendant to notify the EFCC’s Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, anytime he wants to travel out of the country.

Justice Rilwan Aikawa while ordering the release of Usoro’s passport however directed the defendant to ensure that the EFCC Chairman is notified anytime he wants to travel out of the country.

The proposed trial which was billed to go on Wednesday was however stalled due to pending applications.

Mike Ozekhome SAN, the counsel representing Akwa-Ibom officials against whom bench warrant was issued on the orders of the court, said EFCC just filed its counter-affidavit to his client’s motion seeking an order vacating the warrant.

He disclosed that the EFCC’s counter which was filed out-of-time contained a series of allegations against his clients which requires his response.

Faulting Ozekhome’s claim, Oyedepo argued that the proceedings are being regulated by the ACJA and that in the nation’s criminal jurisprudence, there is no law, except the specific direction of the court, that compels a party to file a written address.

In his own submissions, a lawyer representing Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa-Ibom State, Dr Charles Mekwunye, also informed the court that he was served with EFCC’s counter-affidavit to his motion challenging the court’s jurisdiction on Monday.

Mekuonye thereafter sought for time to file his response to the counter.

Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to 10th May 2019 for the hearing of all pending applications.

The anti-graft agency also mentioned in the body of the charges one Nsikan Nkan, described as Commissioner for Finance, Akwa Ibom State; one Mfon Udomah, described as the Accountant General of Akwa Ibom State; one Uwemedimo Nwoko, described as the Akwa Ibom State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; and Margaret Ukpe, all of whom were said to be at large.

The EFCC claimed that Usoro in connivance with the others mentioned conspired among themselves to commit the offence sometime in 2015 “within the jurisdiction of this honourable court.”

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