By TAIYE AGBAJE
ABUJA- The EFCC has opposed a motion filed by Sen. Rochas Okorocha, praying for an order quashing the money laundering charge preferred against him.
The EFCC, in a counter affidavit deposed to by Iyabo Daramola, the agency’s senior legal officer, and filed before Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court (FHC) Abuja, prayed the court to dismiss Okorocha’s application.
The agency, in its application dated and filed on Nov. 18, said it had seen and read through Okorocha’s motion dated Oct. 28, that “the depositions therein are grossly misleading and untrue particularly paragraphs 3 and 4.”
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Okorocha, in a motion on notice marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/28/22 dated and filed on Oct. 28 , had prayed for an order quashing the charge and/or all counts of the charge preferred against him as a result of the investigation by the EFCC into his activities while in office as governor of imo between 2011 and 2019.
Okorocha, who currently represents Imo West Senatorial District, described the suit as being “unlawful, baseless, oppressive and a gross abuse of the process of the court.”
He said that the investigation “on which the said charge was predicated, was subject matter of suit number: FCH/PH/FHR/165/2021 wherein this Hon. Court, Coram Pam, J. had, in final judgment at the suit of the applicant. declared unlawful and made an order prohibiting the EFCC from further proceeding.”
But the EFCC alleged that sometime in 2019, it received various intelligence reports from members of the public.
It said the ex-governor was said to have connived with the then acting accountant general of Imo, the pay officer, the cashier and others, to illegally withdraw the sum of N1 billion and N8 million from the coffers of the state government for the purpose of funding the governorship and state house of assembly’s election in Imo.
It also alleged that the sum of N30 billion was embezzled and stolen from the treasury of the Imo government by Okorocha under the guise of projects execution and laundered through companies.
“Based on the intelligence mentioned in paragraph 5 above, officials of the respondent (EFCC) commenced investigation which include making inquiries from the Zenith Bank on the state’s Federal Account Allocation Committee (“FAAC”) and Joint State Local Government Account (JAAC),” it said.
The anti-corruption agency said it interviewed the signatories to the accounts; interviewed some of the contractors for the state; inquiries from the banks with loan transaction with the state; making inquiries from the Code of Conduct Bureau; and interviewed former and present government officials.
It said the preliminary findings showed that between 2014 and 2018, the aggregate sum of N1 billion and over N8 million was transferred from the local government account of the state.
It said this was done under the guise of mobilisation for building of 28 hospitals across every local government in the state through different companies, including Bureau De Change to a company which provided lease of Learjet 45XR Aircraft for the personal use of the former governor.
The commission alleged that between January and April, 2019, over N6 billion was transferred to different companies from the Imo State Joint State Local Government Project Account domiciled in Zenith Bank based on Okorocha’s directives without contract documentation or evidence of contract execution.
It also alleged that over N50 billion was moved from the treasury of Imo government under the guise of execution of projects through proxy companies and nominees during his administration, among others.
He said Okorocha, upon realising that EFCC had begun investigation, rushed to file suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/475/19 at FHC, Abuja, and surreptitiously secured an order ex-parte with a view to stopping the investigation.
The agency said it challenged the suit and also filed a motion alleging bias against the Hon. Justice Taiwo Taiwo who granted the said ex-parte order.
“In response, his Lordship, Honourable Justice Taiwo on 17’th December, 2019, recused himself from the case and sent the case file back to the Hon. Chief Judge of the FHC for re-assignment.
“The case was reassigned to another court of the Federal High Court, Abuja to start de-novo and no ex-parte order has been made by the new court,” it said.
It averred that while the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/475/2019 was still pending, the lawmaker filed another suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/508/20 at the Abuja FHC with the relief to stop the agency and imo government from investigating him, but the court had not made any order to stop the investigation.
The anti-graft agency said in the absence of any restraining order, it sent an invitation letter to Okorocha but failed to honour it
It said, having refused to honour its invitation, the EFCC applied and obtained an order for the senator’s arrest.
It said on April 13, 2021, Okorocha was later arrested after its operatives eventually got access to his Abuja house where he locked himself up to resist arrest.
It said Okorocha, on April 15, 2021, was granted administrative bail.
The EFCC said it did not violate any known law by carrying out investigation into the activities of Okorocha as the former governor of Imo.
It also said that the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice , Abubakar Malami, SAN, was well aware of the investigation and on-going prosecution against him and other defendants in the case.
Besides, it said that Malami specifically directed the agency to ensure that the case is prosecuted to a logical conclusion.
It argued that the judgment by Justice Pam on Dec. 6, 2021, in the Okorocha’s fundamental rights suit at Port Harcourt division of FHC was delivered without considering the EFCC’s processes duly filed.
It said that the order granted by Justice Pam “is a gagging order designed to frustrate, prevent and discourage the respondent (EFCC) from discharging its statutory functions of investigation and prosecution of economic and financial crimes.”
It added that the order was not directed at proceedings before Justice Ekwo.
The commission said it, however, filed a motion to set aside the Dec. 6, 2021 judgment and it was refused, necessitating the filing of a notice of appeal.
The EFCC stressed that the charge filed against the defendants, including Okorocha, has three voluminous and comprehensive proof of evidence which showed the nexus of the defendants with the charges filed and the list of documentary evidence to be relied upon by the prosecution during the trial.
It said it would be in the interest of justice to refuse Okorocha’s motion.
Upon resumed hearing in the matter on Monday, EFCC’s counsel, Farouk Abdullah, told the court that Ola Olanipekun, SAN, who appeared for Okorocha, had just served on him a further affidavit which he would want to respond to.
Justice Ekwo, who directed all parties to regularise their processes before the next adjourned date, fixed Nov. 25 for hearing of the preliminary objection.
NAN reports that Okorocha, who is the 1st defendant, was arraigned alongside Anyim Nyerere Chinenye, Naphtali International Limited, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Limited, Consolid Projects Consulting Limited, Pramif International Limited, and Legend World Concepts Limited as 2nd to 7th defendants respectively.
NAN also reports that Justice Ekwo, on May 31, admitted Okorocha to bail in the sum of N500 million with one surety in like sum.
The judge also granted Okorocha’s co-defenndant, Chinenye, bail in the terms of the administrative bail earlier granted to him by the EFCC.(NAN)