The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, threatened to throw out a N2 billion money laundering case instituted against Rochas Okorocha, a former governor of Imo State.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had, in April 2021, arrested the former governor over corruption allegations, and later granted him an administrative bail.
It subsequently filed charges against Mr Okorocha, an incumbent senator, and others, but the arraignment had been stalled due to non-service of the charges on the former governor.
At the proceedings on Monday which was meant for the arraignment of Mr Okorocha and his co-defendants before Inyang Ekwo, the EFCC’s lawyer, Cosmos Ugwu, told the court that every effort to find Mr Okorocha and serve him with the charges had been futile.
It was the second time the prosecuting lawyer had complained of his inability to personally serve Mr Okorocha with the charges as required by the law.
He informed the court that he would continue to make efforts until he succeeds in serving the former Imo State governor with the court papers.
Subsequently, Mr Ugwu applied for another adjournment to enable him serve the charges on Mr Okorocha, who represents Imo West senatorial district at the National Assembly.
But, Mr Ugwu’s excuse for not serving charges on Mr Okorocha did not go down well with Mr Ekwo who reminded the lawyer that the same excuse had been given by the prosecution on February 22 when the defendants ought to have taken their pleas.
In a bench ruling, the judge granted the request for the second adjournment and warned the anti-graft agency’s lawyer to show seriousness or else, the case would be struck out.
The judge said, “Let me place on record, that this is the second time this flimsy excuse is being made to justify the absence of the 1st defendant (Okorocha) in court to take his plea.
“As the prosecutor, you must demonstrate seriousness in the discharge of your duties. This is the last adjournment I shall grant in this matter.
“If on the adjourned date, you come up with the same flimsy excuses, I shall have no option but to strike out the charges,” Mr Ekwo warned, before adjourning the suit until May 30.”
The EFCC on January 24, 2022, filed 17-count charges involving criminal diversion of public funds and properties against Mr Okorocha and Anyim Nyerere Chinenye, Naphtali International Limited, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Limited, Consolid Projects Consulting Limited, Pramif International Limited, and Legend World Concepts Limited.
Mr Okorocha, who has declared his interest to run for president in the 2023 general elections, is being put on trial by the Federal Government on 17-count charges involving criminal diversion of public funds and properties.
At the last adjourned date, other defendants billed to be arraigned along with Mr Okorocha were present in court.
The anti-graft agency in February obtained an interim forfeiture order for the purposes of confiscating the former governor’s assets in Abuja.
Wilson Uwujaren, EFCC’s spokesperson, had said the property located in the Garki area of Abuja is “reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities” of Mr Okorocha.
He gave the full address of the property as Plot 1032 & 1033 Cadastral Zone AO3, Takum Close, Off Michika Street, Ahmadu Bello Way, Garki, Abuja.
The interim forfeiture order came just some days after the EFCC lamented its inability to serve the ex-governor with the corruption charges it recently filed against him.
The anti-graft agency had in January filed a 17-count charge against Mr Okorocha over allegations that he conspired with others, including an APC politician and five companies, to steal N2.9 billion from public coffers.