Five months after corruption charges totaling N2 billion were filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Timipriye Sylva, former governor of Bayelsa state, Tuesday, appeared before the Federal High Court in Abuja to respond to the charges.
For months, Mr. Sylva stayed out of public view as he engaged in bitter exchanges with President Goodluck Jonathan and delayed the trial. He eventually turned himself in for an appearance on Tuesday.
The former governor pleaded not guilty before Justice Adamu Bello, on allegations of misappropriating state funds.
The judge however rejected an immediate bail application ordering that the former governor be remanded in the EFCC custody till Thursday, 7th June, 2012 for hearing on the bail application.
The charges were first filed in February 2012. The anti-graft agency accuses the former governor of siphoning state funds under false pretences through several banks and bureau de change agents between 2009 and 2010 during which time Mr. Sylva held sway as the governor of the oil rich Niger-Delta state.
The state is seen as one of the region’s poorest despite the huge oil wealth that has seen multiple administrations controlling nearly a trillion naira since the return of democracy in 1999.
Mr. Sylva is the second former governor of the state since 1999 to face corruption charges after Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who was impeached in 2004 on grounds of money laundering. Mr. Alamieyeseigha was eventually convicted and sentenced for misappropriating state funds.
President Goodluck Jonathan, himself a former governor of the state, has blamed Mr. Sylva for much of the ills and wastage the state has faced. He specifically cited a prolonged hotel project that began under Mr. Alamieyeseigha, continued during the president’s tenure as governor, before being inherited and left uncompleted by Mr. Sylva.
Mr. Sylva lost a re-election bid to the president’s handpicked candidate, Seriake Dickson, a former House of Representatives member.
According to the charges filed by the EFCC today, Mr. Sylva converted about N2 billion worth of properties and resources belonging to the state between 2009 and 2010, under false pretence, with an intention to hide the origin of the proceeds, an offence punishable under the Anti-money Laundering Act.
A further N380 million and N20 million were also converted separately under similar circumstances within the same period, the commission said.
The most brazen appears to be the accused allegedly asking Union bank to provide a N2 billion over draft under the false pretence of augmenting state workers’ salaries.
Mr. Sylva’s lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi, had moved for a motion for bail for Mr. Sylva, but EFCC’s counsel, Festus Keyamo opposed the request.
Mr. Fagbemi asked the court to take into cognizance the fact that Mr. Sylva presented himself to the court without being declared wanted.
He also said his client deserved to be given bail since in the eyes of the law he is considered innocent until proven otherwise, and that the charges preferred against his client were bail-able offences.
Opposing the request, Mr. Keyamo told the court of how the EFCC tried in vain in the past to serve the former governor invitation letters for questioning. He therefore told the court that rather than bail, the judge should expedite the trial.