The Federal Capital Territory High Court in Apo, Abuja, has dismissed the preliminary objection filed by Farouk Lawan, against his trial involving allegation that he received $500,000 bribe while serving as the House of Representatives chairman of the ad-hoc committee investigating the fraud around the oil subsidy regime in 2012.
Angela Otaluka, the trial judge, dismissed Mr Lawan’s objection in her judgment being delivered on Tuesday.
The decision set the stage for the judge to consider the case on merit in the rest of the judgment.
Ms Otaluka is the third judge to handle the trial that has spanned over nine years.
Two judges who earlier handled the matter could not see it to the end as the first one was elevated to the Court of Appeal bench and the second withdrew after Mr Lawan accused her of bias.
Mr Lawan is standing trial for allegedly demanding $3 million bribe from billionaire businessman, Femi Otedola, to remove his firms from the list of companies indicted for oil subsidy fraud by the House committee.
The defendant was said to have received $500,000 out of the $3million he demanded from Mr Otedola.
Dismissing Mr Lawan’s preliminary objection to trial on Tuesday, Ms Otaluka said the argument of the defence lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, that Mr Lawan was not a public officer going by the Section 2 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Act, was untenable.
The judge held that a public officer is anyone who occupies a public office and who is remunerated with public funds as against Mr Ozekhome’s argument that Mr Lawan was a “mere political office holders.”
Mr Lawan was the chairman of an ad hoc committee set up by the House in 2012 to investigate massive petrol subsidy fraud.
The committee found some oil companies culpable of defrauding the Federal Government via spurious subsidy claims. Zenon Petroleum and Gas Company, belonging to Mr Otedola, was also found culpable.
The committee enjoyed wide public approval of the committee’s work, with Mr Lawan appearing strict during public hearings on the matter.
He was later to be accused of had receiving bribe to clear some companies.
Mr Otedola’s encounter with the former lawmaker involving the exchange of about $500,000 was a “sting operation” to collect evidence, the State Security Service later told the court.
Mr Lawan denied the charges.
More details later…
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