October 10, 2008

EFCC arraigns Amaechi’s aide over N5bn fraud

The Chief of Staff to Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Mr. Ezebunwo Wike, was on Thursday arraigned before an Abuja High Court for allegedly converting over N5bn belonging to the state into personal use.
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The The Chairman of the EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri

His arraignment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission coincided with the demand by the state government for the payment of N3bn compensation to Wike by the EFCC.

Two of the charges read, “That you, Wike, sometime between 2007 and 2008, at Abuja in the Abuja Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, converted to your own use, N3.5bn, belonging to the Rivers State Government, and you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 309 of the Penal Code Cap 532 of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.

“That you, Wike, sometime between 2007 and 2008 did dishonestly convert to your own use, N129m belonging to the state, and you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 309 of the Penal Code Cap 532 of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.”

The Chief of Staff, who pleaded not guilty to a seven-count charge brought against him, was however granted bail in the sum of N50m by Justice Adebukola Banjoko.

He is also to produce two sureties that must be resident in the Federal Capital Territory .

Earlier, one of the lawyers to the accused person, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), had told Banjoko that the governor’s aide, who had practised as a lawyer for more than 10 years, would neither tamper with EFCC’s investigations nor jump bail.

Fagbemi, who led two other SANS— Damien Dodo and Sunday Ameh— also informed the justice that the state High Court in Port Harcourt had ordered the release of Wike.

He said, “The accused person walked into the office of the EFCC on Monday and has been in detention since then, I want to present before this court, an order of the Rivers State High Court that declared the arrest, detention and continued detention of the accused person as illegal.

“The court also ordered that he should be released from custody henceforth pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”

The counsel for the EFCC, Mr. James Binang, did not oppose the oral application for bail but he said the condition should be stringent.

Binang said, “We have been served with a copy of the order of the High Court, we want to submit that his (Wike) arrest and detention was lawful as it was based on the reasonable suspicion that he has committed a crime.

“He was also brought to court with reasonable time; we brought him to court within 48 hours, so the EFCC will not obey that order unless this court says so.

“All conditions for his bail now rest with this court. Our investigations disclosed both felony and money laundering, and it is only the Federal High Court that has the jurisdiction to entertain money laundering cases.

“We urge the court to, in considering the bail application, take into cognizance of the amount of money involved and to put conditions that would make him attend his trial.”

After listening to the argument, Banjoko granted the accused bail and ordered him to submit two passport photographs to the court’s registry.

“I have taken cognisance of the fact that the offences for which the accused person is standing trial are bailable, therefore bail is granted in the sum of N50m with two sureties who must be resident in the FCT. They must swear an affidavit showing evidence of payment of their taxes for three years,” he said.

The judge consequently adjourned hearing on the matter till October 24.

But the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Magnus Abe, described the arraignment of Wike as persecution.

Abe, who was released on Wednesday by the EFCC, said that the government would do everything possible to meet the bail conditions.

The Resident Media Consultant to Amaechi, Mr. David Iyofor, told journalists that Abe was at the commission’s office to submit a letter explaining the whereabouts of other members of the government under investigation when he was detained.

The other officials that were invited by the anti-graft agency in connection with the fraud are the Commissioner of Finance, Mr. Thank God Ideozu; the Accountant-General of the State, Mr. Ngozi Abu; and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Mrs. A. E. Dokubo.

Iyofor said, “As a law abiding citizen, the SSG had only gone to appraise the commission of the location of the officers of government, when he was picked up and detained unlawfully for more than 48 hours.

“Now, the commission claimed he was arrogant and uncooperative. Since when did it become a crime to be arrogant? That is what we want the EFCC to explain to us.”

The government also accused the anti-graft agency of infringing on Wike’s rights by detaining him “unconstitutionally.”

In an application it filed at the High Court in Port Harcourt, the government condemned the arrest and detention of Abe for about 48 hours without any cause.

The state, therefore, sought leave of the court to enforce Wike’s rights and the payment N3bn to him by the EFCC.

“The court should compel the commission to, within 14 days or such time as may be ordered, pay to the applicant (Wike) the N3bn or any such sum as may be deemed appropriate as monetary compensation or aggravated damages for the infringement of his fundamental rights, ” it said.

It was learnt on Thursday that the governor had returned to the country from his overseas trip and may be meeting with management of the EFCC.punch online

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