An Ikeja Special Offences Court in Lagos on Thursday granted John Abebe, the younger brother of the late Stella Obasanjo, spouse of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo bail over alleged four million dollars fraud.
Mr Abebe is facing a four-count charge of forgery, fabricating evidence, using fabricated evidence and attempt to pervert the cause of justice slammed on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He, however, denied the charges during his arraignment on July 26 and was remanded for a week at the Ikoyi Prisons by Justice Mojisola Dada.
At Thursday’s bail proceedings, Kanu Agabi, Mr Abebe’s lawyer, via a bail application dated July 25 and supported by an 11-paragraph affidavit, asked the court to grant Mr Abebe bail.
Mr Agabi said the judge should take cognizance of Mr Abebe’s high status in the society and that the defendant in a bid to absolve himself of the charges had hired the services of four Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
“My Lord, the fact that the defendant has taken the trouble to hire the services of the calibre of counsel here shows that he is not interested in jumping bail.
“He is anxious because his reputation is at stake, the granting of bail is in your discretion and it is not at all a formality.
“Lastly, My Lord, there is a principle that applies during sentencing particularly when Your Lordship wants to apply a fine in terms of imprisonment.
“This applies to bail, the bail should be affordable, if not the bail would be an illusion. Merely looking at the defendant, you will see he is a man of rank and position.
“Our law permits bail to the defendant and that provision will be useless if he cannot avail himself of the bail,” Agabi said.
Responding, Babatunde Sonoiki, the EFCC counsel, in an application supported by an 8-paragraph affidavit, said Mr Abebe should face justice irrespective of his status.
He told the court : “Every citizen of Nigeria is being called before the law and before the law there is no high profile or low profile
person, justice is blind.
“If the court is minded to give bail, we want the bail to be such that it would compel his attendance in court as these are serious allegations against him.”
Granting Mr Abebe bail, Justice Dada noted that documents before her revealed that investigations had been concluded in the case, adding that the chances of interference in the proceedings from the defendant were low.
“In view of the facts before the court, I hereby grant the defendant bail upon the submission of his international passport to the court registrar with one substantial surety.
“The surety must own property in a choice area of Lagos and must provide proof of ownership,” she said.
Following the ruling, it was brought to the judge’s attention by the defence that Mr Abebe’s passport was still in the possession of
Justice Dada said: “Since the passport of the defendant is with the EFCC, he is hereby granted bail on fulfillment of other conditions.”
According to Rotimi Oyedepo, the EFCC prosecutor present at Mr Abebe’s arraignment on July 26, the defendant committed the offence on June 22, 2010 in Lagos.
“Abebe knowingly forged BP Exploration Nigeria Ltd’s letter dated Nov. 30, 1995 to Inducon (Nigeria) Ltd.
“He committed the forgery by inserting in page two of the said letter the following words: Also note that the ‘Buy-Out Option’ only applies to the pre-production stage of the NPIA. The $4 million buy-out is thus irrelevant from production of oil in any of our fields.
“He purported same to have been issued by BP Exploration Nigeria Limited,” the EFCC prosecutor said.
The prosecution claimed that the defendant used the said forged letter as evidence in suit: FHC/L/CS/224/2010 between Abebe,
Inducon Nigeria Ltd and Statoil Nigeria Ltd at the Federal High Court.
The evidence was admitted and marked exhibit BB in the suit.
According to the EFCC, the defendant through his actions attempted to pervert the course of justice.
The offences violated Sections 120(1), 120(2), 126(2) and 467 of the Criminal Code Law of 2003.
Justice Dada adjourned the case until October 23, October 24 and October 25 for trial.