The Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday threatened to issue a warrant for the arrest of a former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, over her failure to appear in court for her corruption trial.
Inyang Ekwo, the judge, said he will order the ex-minister’s arrest if she fails to appear for the trial on October 19 slated for her arraignment in an alleged N5 billion fraud case.
Ms Oduah, now a senator representing Anambra North Senatorial district in the Senate was billed to be arraigned on Monday on 25 counts, but she was not in court along with the 4th defendant.
‘32 prosecution witnesses readied for trial’
At Monday’s proceedings, Hassan Liman, the prosecuting lawyer, told the judge that all the defendants had been served with the charges as earlier ordered. He expressed displeasure that the former minister was again, not in court without any excuse.
Mr Liman revealed that 32 witnesses had been assembled to testify against Ms Odua and eight others in order to establish the fraud charges against them.
The judge while fixing October 19 for the arraignment of the former minister and kick start trial, warned the absentee defendants to be in court on the date or have bench warrant of arrest issued against them.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported that the scheduled arraignment of Ms Oduah, alongside Chinese construction giant, CCECC, and six others, charged with laundering funds to the tune of N 5billion, was stalled in February.
The arraignment was initially stalled on February 9 due to the non-service of the charges on the defendants.
Although most of the defendants were subsequently served, the prosecuting counsel, Hassan Liman, informed the judge at the February 22, 2021 proceedings that the prosecution still could not serve two of the defendants – Global Offshore and Marine Ltd, and Tip Top Global Resources Ltd.
Mr Liman, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the EFCC, then applied to the court to have the two defendants served through their last known addresses.
The judge granted the application, ordering that “service to be effected within 14 days of this order.”
But Mr Ekwo also reminded the prosecution that they had taken two of the five adjournments they were entitled to under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
When Mr Liman tried to explain away the prosecution’s lapses leading to the two adjournments as a mere pre-trial issue, the judge said, “You ought not to file when you were not ready.”
One of the co-defendants is Gloria Odita (2nd defendant), who is said to be an aide to Ms Oduah when she was Minister of Aviation, and company secretary of Sea Petroleum & Gas Company (SPGC) Limited, a firm founded by the former minister.
The rest are, an employee of SPCG and aide to Ms Oduah, Nwobu Nnamdi (3rd defendant), Chukwuma Chinyere (4th defendant), Crystal Television Limited (7th defendant), and Sobora International Limited (8th defendant).
The 9th defendant is CCECC Nigeria Ltd, the Nigerian subsidiary of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) established by the Chinese government to execute international contracts and economic cooperation.
This newspaper had reported how the EFCC on December 17, 2020 filed 25 counts accusing the defendants of laundering various sums of money totaling about N5,052,415,984 between February and June 2014.
The agency accused them of conspiracy to commit money laundering, transferring, taking control and taking possession of proceeds of fraud, aiding and abetting money laundering and opening anonymous bank accounts.
Specifically, the prosecution alleged in two of the 25 counts that Ms Oduah and Ms Odita opened anonymous “Private Banking Nominee” dollar and naira accounts with First Bank, thereby committing an offence contrary to section 11(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended) and punishable under section 11(4) (a) of the same Act.
PREMIUM TIMES’ review of the charges showed that CCECC Nigeria Limited allegedly transferred over N2.5 billion into the naira account of Private Banking Nominee between March 31 and June 6, 2014.
In seven of the counts where CCECC is indicted singly and along with Ms Oduah and Ms Oditah, the company was accused of “conspiring with the women to commit money laundering, and directly transferring to Private Banking Nominee account various sums of money totalling N2,583,385,246 which it reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity to wit: fraud…”
The prosecution alleged for instance in Count 17, that CCECC Nigeria, “on various dates between March 5, 2014, and May 30, 2014” in Abuja “directly transferred the sum of N868409,349.00 from your account with Zenith Bank Place to Private Banking Nominee Account 2024414450 domiciled with First Bank Plc, which money you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful act to wit: fraud…”
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