A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mohammed Belgore, and a former Minister of National Planning, Abubakar Suleiman, were on Wednesday in Lagos granted bail on own recognisance after entering a plea of `not guilty’.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, charged the duo before a Federal High Court, Lagos, for alleged five-count offences bordering on money laundering to the tune of N450 million.
Justice Aikawa, who gave the ruling, said since the prosecution did not oppose the bail application and considering the accused’s standing in the society, “they will not likely jump bail.”
He, however, ordered that their international passports should be deposited with the court’s Deputy Chief Registrar and only to be released on the court’s order.
The EFCC accused them of conspiring to directly take possession of N450 million which they “reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act.”
The commission said both the minister and the lawyer committed the offences on March 27, 2015.
Apart from taking possession of N450 million, the accused were said to have conspired to make cash payment of the sum to one Sheriff Shagaya without going through a financial institution.
The offences, according to the EFCC, contravened the provisions of Section 15, 15(3), 16, 16(2) 18(a) and 18 (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.
The accused pleaded not guilty to all the counts.
The counsel to the first accused (Mr. Belgore), Ebun Shofunde, urged the court to grant him bail on own-recognisance.
“Given his antecedents, I am asking that the bail should be on self-recognizance because he has always made himself available while on administrative bail.
“He has been a Senior Advocate of Nigeria since 2001; he is not a threat and he is not likely to jump bail given his standing. He has also been a lawyer since 1985.”
Also, counsel to the second accused (Mr. Suleiman), Bolaji Ayorinde, wanted the court to grant the former minister bail on own-recognisance.
He said:“He is a renowned educationist, a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Abuja.
“He has served this country as a minister in 2014. He has been involved in teaching and research for the past 30 years; he has graduated more than 10,000 students for the past 30 years.
“He voluntarily submitted himself to EFCC and never contravened the terms of his administrative bail. I urge your lordship to grant him bail on self-recognition,” he said.
Counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, however, did not oppose the bail applications.
“We leave bail at your lordship’s discretion and pray that your lordship should impose conditions that will compel their attendance for trial.”
The case has been adjourned to February 23 for trial.