The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on Thursday, said that it “believes strongly” that Walter Wagbatsoma, one of the defendants to be arraigned over the oil subsidy fraud, “escaped to the United States”.
Mr. Wagbatsoma’s absence in court stalled proceedings for the second day running and forced the judge to adjourn the case till August 1.
“We served him (court papers) and went to his house severally. We believe he escaped and left the country,” Rotimi Jacobs, counsel to EFCC, told journalists after the court had risen.
Mr. Abiru, the presiding judge, denied the bail applications for Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi, Fakuade Babafemi Ebenezer, and Ezekiel Olaleye Ejidele – the three defendants who were docked.
Mr. Abiru described the defendants’ submission for hearing of their pleas as “immature”.
“We cannot take the pleas separately,” Mr. Abiru said, adding that Mr. Wagbatsoma must attend on the next adjourned date.
‘OUT OF TOWN’
Olawale Akoni, counsel to Mr. Wagbatsoma and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, told the court that the reason for his client’s absence was “primarily because he is out of town”.
“We have spoken and he is making arrangements to appear in court so that he can defend the charges filed against him,” said Mr. Akoni.
“In fact, when speaking to him, I learnt that he received a letter from the EFCC on 16th July to appear at their office on the 24th July…He has a connecting flight by next week Monday,” the lawyer said.
“I have communicated these facts to the prosecution and I assured them he is going to appear,” he added.
While apologizing to the court for the absence of Mohammed Adoke, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Jacobs stated that proceedings cannot go on in Mr. Wagbatsoma’s absence.
“He (Mr. Adoke) promised yesterday that he intends to take this matter personally today,” Mr. Jacobs said.
“But he called that he will be unavoidably absent on account of pressing state matters and that I should lead proceedings.
“It is true that we invited the first defendant (Mr. Wagbatsoma) and he was requested to report on the 24th of July, but we never received any letter explaining his absence,” Mr. Jacobs said.
Efforts by counsels to the other defendants to force the judge to separate Mr. Wagbatsoma from the trial met a brick wall.
“The 4th defendant was invited in February. Till Monday 23rd when he was arraigned, he has always voluntarily shown up,” said J.J Ogunyemi, counsel to Mr. Ejidele.
“In view of the constitutional presumption of innocence, I ask that the trial be separated so that pleas can be taken and bailing applications considered,” Mr. Ogunyemi added.
The defence counsels blamed the EFCC for “lumping someone who they did not have with people they have”.
Mr. Akoni promised the court that Mr. Wagbatsoma would be in court on August 1.