By TAIYE AGBAJE
ABUJA- Federal High Court, Abuja has fixed Tuesday to hear the bail application filed by Sen. Rochas Okorocha.
Justice Inyang Ekwo fixed the date after counsel for Okorocha, Okey Amaechi, SAN, told the court that a bail application had been filed on behalf of his client, following his non-guilty plea.
The senator’s bail request is expected to be taken alongside his co-defendant, Anyim Nyerere Chinenye’s bail plea, who also filed the motion through his lawyer, Darlington Onwunzurumba.
After the matter was called, counsel for the EFCC, Gbolahan Latona, informed that a 17-count charge, dated Jan. 24 and filed Jan. 31, was before the court.
He prayed the court for the counts to be read to the defendants so they could take their plea.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Okorocha is the current senator representing Imo West Senatorial District.
The lawmaker, who is the 1st defendant, was arraigned alongside 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.
He was alleged to have laundered funds to the tune of N2.9 billion while serving as governor of Imo.
Shortly after the counts were read to the duo, Okorocha and Chinenye pleaded not guilty.
Justice Ekwo also entered a non-guilty plea for 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th defendants, which are companies allegedly used in commiting the offence, after Onwunzurumba, who held the brief of Oba Maduabuchi, SAN, did not oppose it.
Latona, who asked for a trial date, told the court that majority of their witnesses were outside jurisdiction due to peculiarity of the case.
The judge then adjourned the matter until Nov. 7, Nov. 8, Nov. 9, Nov. 10 and Nov. 11 for trial commencement.
But Amaechi, who was Okorochas’ lawyer, told the court that considering the adjourned dates, they planned to filed an application challenging the competence of the charge.
He also said that a motion for his client’s bail, dated and filed on May 26, was filed and served on the prosecution.
He urged the court for the application to be taken.
Latona, who acknowledged receipt of the bail application, indicated his intention to oppose it.
Onwunzurumba, counsel for Chinenye (2nd defendant), also informed that he filed a bail application on behalf of his client.
The EFCC lawyer confirmed being served and said he would respond to the motion as well.
Amaechi, however, expressed his unhappiness over the manner Okorocha was arrested at his residence on May 24.
He alleged that without an arrest warrant, the operatives of the EFCC went to Okorochas’ residence, broke in, arrested him and locked him in their custody, having no regard to his status as a presidential aspirant.
The senior lawyer said against this backdrop, a bail application was filed.
Ekwo, who fixed May 31 (Tuesday) for the hearing of the bail application, ordered Okorocha and his co-defendant to be remanded in the EFCC’s custody pending the hearing and determination of the motions.
NAN reports that that the court had, on Friday, refused to admit Okorocha to a bail.
Justice Ekwo, instead, ordered Okorocha, through his lawyer, Ola Olanipekun, SAN, to put the anti-graft agency on notice.
Olanipekun had, in an ex-parte motion marked FHC/ABJ/CR/28/2022, prayed the court to grant Okorocha bail on liberal terms pending the hearing and determination of motion on notice filed on May 25.
NAN reports that Ekwo had, on March 28, given the anti-corruption commission May 30 (today) as the last time the matter would be adjourned following the EFCC’s complaint that it had been unable to serve Okorocha despite several efforts.
The judge had threatened to strike out the case if the EFCC failed to produce the senator in the next adjourned date, after two adjournments were granted for his arraignment.
Operatives of the EFCC were said to have invaded Okorocha’s residence May 24 following what they described as his refusal to honour the anti-corruption commission’s invitation after he was alleged to have jumped the administrative bail earlier granted to him.
Okorocha was whisked away after some hours and remanded at the EFCC’s custody.(NAN)