For the sixth consecutive time, the planned arraignment of a former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, over N5 billion money laundering charges was stalled at the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday.
The arraignment scheduled before Inyang Ekwo, the trial judge, was scuttled by a petition written against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by two of Ms Oduah’s co- defendants to Ms Oduah.
The two co-defendants — Crystal Television Limited and Sobora International Limited – are the 7th and 8th defendants.
A Chinese construction giant, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), is also a co-defendant in the case.
Ms Oduah, a serving senator representing Anambra North in the senate, recently defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), a move speculated to be aimed at seeking a political settlement of the case.
After Ms Oduah and three others were called into the dock to take their plea, counsel for the two defendants, Ogwu Onoja, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, objected to the arraignment on the grounds that his clients were being persecuted by the EFCC.
Mr Onoja insisted that the aggrieved defendants had petitioned the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami, seeking a review of the charges against them.
He informed Mr Ekwo that the AGF upon receipt of the petition, wrote the Executive Chairman of the EFCC to remit the case file to his office for a review, adding that in flagrant disregard to the AGF’s letter, the EFCC had bluntly refused to remit the case file to the AGF.
He tendered certified true copy of the AGF’s letter as received by the EFCC chairman and urged the court not to go ahead in the arraignment until the petition has been resolved in the interest of justice.
However, EFCC’s counsel, Ofem Uket, denied knowing anything about the AGF’s letter, adding that as a mwmber of staff of EFCC, he was just seeing the letter for the first time in court.
The counsel urged the court to disregard the petition by the defendants and proceed woth arraignment of the defendants.
He said the the AGF would have come to the court if he had any opposition to the arraignment.
However, Mr Ekwo said since the petition was raised as both statutory and constitutional matter by the defendants, he would not proceed.
The judge then ordered the lawyers in the matter to file written addresses for and against the issue raised in the open court and exchange same on the competence of the charges before the adjourned date..
Mr Ekwo fixed February 10, 2022 for adoption of the written addresses and ordered that Ms Oduah and other defendants in the case should continue to enjoy the bail earlier granted them.
Ms Oduah’s planned arraignment for November 22 in the corruption charges had been stalled five times due to her absence from court and public holiday.
The judge had on July 12 threatened to issue warrant of arrest for Ms Oduah’s arrest should she fail to make herself available for arraignment on the then adjourned date of October 19 which later fell on Eid-el Maulud holiday.
The arrest threat was issued following her non-appearance to honour court proceedings of July 12 without any explanation from her side.
The EFCC is alleging that Mrs Oduah misappropriated the N5 billion public funds while serving as a Aviation Minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime.
Other defendants are Mrs Gloria Odita, Mrs Nwosu Emmanuel Nnamdi, Mrs Chukwuma Irene Chinyere, Global Offshore and Marine Limited, Tip Top Global Resources Limited, Crystal Television Limited and Sobora International Limited among others.
They are charged with conspiracy and money laundering as well as maintaining anonymous bank accounts.
The anti-graft agency had indicted Ms Oduah, and the Nigerian subsidiary of Chinese construction giant, CCECC, in alleged fraudulent cash transactions of about N5billion over five months in 2014, PREMIUM TIMES had reported.
This paper reported that the EFCC could not arraign the nine defendants in the 25-count charge at the Federal High Court in Abuja on February 9, because the defendants had not been served the relevant court documents.
The China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) Nigeria Ltd is the Nigerian subsidiary of the parent CCECC established by the Chinese government to execute international contracts and economic cooperation.
The firm, which has enjoyed decades of patronage from the Nigerian government, is handling major infrastructural projects, such as the construction of railways and major roads under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
It signed contracts for the construction of airport terminal projects with the Nigerian government during the tenure of Ms Oduah as Minister of Aviation.
Ms Oduah, who now represents Anambra North in the Nigerian Senate, was removed as the Minister of Aviation by then President Goodluck Jonathan on February 12, 2014, following a scandal over N255million armoured cars which she made the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), an agency under her supervision as Minister of Aviation, buy for her at inflated prices.
The web of transactions, which the EFCC has now characterised as money laundering – in the fresh charges, started on February 5, 2014, about a week to Ms Oduah’s sack as aviation minister.
The transactions continued till five months after.
On December 17, 2020, EFCC filed a total of 25 counts against Ms Oduah (1st defendant), CCECC Nigeria Limited (9th defendant) and seven others comprising persons and firms.
One of the other defendants in the case, Gloria Odita (2nd defendant), is said to be an aide to Ms Oduah when she was Minister of Aviation. She is said to be the company secretary of Sea Petroleum & Gas Company (SPGC) Limited, a firm founded by the former minister.
The rest of the defendants are an employee of SPCG and aide to Ms Oduah, Nwobu Nnamdi (3rd defendant), Chukwuma Chinyere (4th defendant), Global Offshore and Marine Ltd (5th defendant), Tip Top Global Resources Limited (6th defendant), Crystal Television Limited (7th defendant), and Sobora International Limited (8th defendant).
The EFCC, in the 25 counts, accused the defendants of conspiracy to commit money laundering, transferringc, 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 N2.5billion 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…”
It alleged in another count that Ms Oduah and Ms Odita, on various dates between March and May 2014, “took control of the sum of N1,225,347,524 transferred from China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) Nigeria Ltd bank account with Zenith Bank Plc to Private Banking Nominee Account No 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…”
It also alleged that under similar circumstances, Ms Oduah and Ms Odita, between March 31 and April 1, 2014 in Abuja “did take control of N500,000,000 directly transferred from the GTB account number 0033880295 account” belonging to CCECC to “Private Banking Nominee account number 2024414450 domiciled with First Bank Plc.”
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To place an advert here . Call Willie - +2348098788999