The scheduled trial of an ex-Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, for an alleged fraud of N47.6bn was stalled on Thursday due to the absence of the prosecutor, Mr. Festus Keyamo.
Keyamo wrote to the Federal High Court in Lagos, where the trial was taking place, to ask for an adjournment on the grounds that his main witness was not available for Thursday.
Consequently, the trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, adjourned the case till December 13 and 14, 2016 for trial.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had, on April 18, 2016, arraigned Tompolo in absentia on 22 counts of alleged N47.6bn fraud.
Also arraigned in absentia in relation to the alleged fraud were six brothers of a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi. They are Igo, Julius, Victor, Norbert, Emmanuel and Clement.
Tompolo, Igo, Julius, Victor, Norbert, Emmanuel and Clement were declared as being “now at large” when the charges were read before Justice Buba on April 18.
But Akpobolokemi himself, two females – Josephine Otuaga and Rita Uruakpa – and one Kime Engozu, who were also listed as defendants in the amended charge, were present in court on April 18 to answer to the charges.
The other defendants in the charge are five companies, namely: Mieka Dive Training Institute Ltd/GTE; Oyeinteke Global Network Limited; Wabod Global Resources Ltd.; Boloboere Properties Estate Ltd.; Gokaid Marine Oil and Gas Ltd.; and Watershed Associated Resources.
The charges bordered on conspiracy, advance fee fraud and money laundering. But the defendants who were in court pleaded not guilty to all of them.
At the hearing on Thursday, one of the defence counsels, Mr. Oyesoji Oyeleke (SAN), informed the court of a preliminary objection he filed on behalf of his client, challenging the competence of the charges.
Oyeleke is contending that the prosecution had failed to depose to an affidavit stating that it had concluded its investigation before filing the charges.
For this failure he is urging the court to strike out the entire 22 counts filed by the EFCC against his client.
Another defence counsel, Mr. Sylvester Ekweme, representing one of the Akpobolokemi’s brothers, Clement, also informed the court of his client’s bail application pending to be heard.
Ekweme said his client had been in detention since April.
Justice Buba adjourned till November 10, 2016 to take the two pending applications.
Among other things, the EFCC alleged that the defendants conspired among themselves to defraud the Federal Government between December 2, 2014 and April 10, 2015, by inducing the Federal Government to deliver an aggregate sum of N11.9bn to them.
The EFCC claimed that the accused persons induced the Federal Government by “falsely pretending to the Federal Government that a parcel of land and its appurtenances situated at Mieka Dive Training Institute, Kurutie, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State had been acquired by NIMASA for the temporary campus of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko.”
By allegedly making fraudulent and false representations to the Federal Government, the EFCC said, the defendants violated Section 1 (b) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other fraud related Offences Act 2006 and were liable to punishment under Section 1(3) of the same Act.
In another count, the EFCC accused the defendants of fraudulently converting a sum of N13,027,564,822 belonging to NIMASA to their private use sometime in 2014.
The offence is said to be contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.
The defendants were also accused of swindling the Federal Government to the tune of N11.940bn, by presenting a forged Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy of Bendel State of Nigeria dated May 6, 2014 to NIMASA on the false claim that the forged document was genuine and issued by Warri South-West Local Council, Delta State.
For the alleged offence, the EFCC said the defendants were liable to being punished under Section 1(2)(c) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap. M17, Laws of the Federation, 2004.