BY OLUGBENGA SOYELE, Lagos –
Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered the arrest of Chimaroke Nnamani, a former governor of Enugu State and one of his aides, Sunday Anyaogu for failing to appear before him to answer to N4.5 billion fraud case.
Justice Obiozor had last week Thursday, mandated the former governor to appear before him to take his plea on the ten-count charge conspiracy and fraud instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
But at the resumed hearing of the matter on Monday, Nnamani’s counsel, Abubakar Samusudeen, informed the court of the inability of his client to be in court, according to him the former governor was yet to return from his medical treatment abroad.
He said, “We received the hearing notice to appear before you in respect of this matter just last Thursday,” Mr. Abubakar, a lawyer from Ricky Tarfa Chambers, informed the judge.
“Unfortunately, Nnamani is bedridden in a hospital in America. When this matter came up on 30th November, we tried to reach out to the family.
“I was reliably informed that the defendant had a heart surgery and we wanted to get a medical report but unfortunately we could not,” the lawyer said.
When asked by the judge why the former governor stopped attending trial since 2015 when his surgery was only last month, the defence lawyer said it was the period the companies pleaded guilty to the charges.
Samusudeen said, “The first and second defendants are appearing in this case on their personal capacities and have nothing to do with the companies’ guilty plea,” the judge said.
“I am not for or against anybody. You tried to reach the family of the first defendant and could not but you were aware he went to surgery.”
Samusudeen, therefore, urged the court for a new date to enable the accused person to return from abroad to stand trial.
However, lawyer to the EFCC, Kelvin Uzozie, urged the court to discountenance Nnamani lawyer’s application, submitting that the court’s order is meant to be obeyed.
Uzozie also informed the court that the photographic evidence by the defence lawyer to prove Mr. Nnamani’s recuperation in a US hospital had been in circulation since 2014.
“I don’t need to tell the defence lawyer what to do, the (defendants’) sureties are supposed to be here to show cause as to why the defendants are not here.”
Ruling on the application, Justice Obiozor, conceded to the submission of the EFCC lawyer, and issued arrest warrant against Nnamani.
The judge held, “There is no evidence shown to the court as to why the defendants are absent, there is no justification for the continued absence of the defendants.
“In the absence of any convincing evidence, it is hereby ordered that a bench warrant be issued against the defendants and summons to their sureties to show cause.” he stated.
The matter has been adjourned till December 14, 2017 for re-arraignment of the two accused persons.
This fresh arraignment is coming ten years after the ex-governor and others were first arraigned before the court in connection with the alleged offence.
Nnamani was earlier arraigned before Justice Tijani Abubakar in 2007 and re-arraigned before Justice Charles Archibong when Tijani Abubakar was elevated to court of appeal.
He was later re-arraigned before Mohammed Yinusa when Justice Archibong was retired.
The former Governor was re -arraigned before Justice Yinusa, who had also retired from the bench, on a 105-count charge of money laundering and economic crime to the tune of N4.5 billion.
The ex-governor was arraigned before the court alongside his ex-aide, Sunday Anyaogu and six firms linked to them.
They are: Rainbownet Nig Ltd, Hillgate Nig Ltd, Cosmos FM, Capital City Automobile Nig Ltd, Renaissance University Teaching Hospital and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School.
The alleged financial impropriety was alleged to have been committed while Nnamani held sway as governor of Enugu state between 1999 and 2007.
Nnamani, according to the charge, was alleged to have conspired with other accused persons to launder various statutory allocations of some local government areas of Enugu State.
The local governments are: Aninri, Enugu South, Agwu, Igbo Etiti and Isi Uzor.
In count nine, Nnamani was alleged to have stole N1.4 billion from the Excess Crude Oil Funds allocated to the local governments in the state.
Besides, the former governor, through the help of one Chinero Nwigwe, who is now at large was alleged to have fraudulently transferred millions of dollars of Enugu State funds to his personal accounts in the United States of America.
One of the counts reads; “That you Chimaroke Nnamani, Sunday Onyeakazuru Anyaogu, Rainbownet Nig Ltd, Hillgate Nig Ltd, Cosmos FM, Capital City Automobile Nig Ltd, Renaissance University Teaching Hospital and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School, sometime in March 2007, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did transfer $1, 556, 994.02 ($1.5m) to the foreign account in the United States of America (in which Chimaroke Nnamani and Chinero Nwigwe are sole signatories to the account) which sum you knew represented the proceeds of crime with the aim of concealing the nature of the proceeds of the said crime and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 14 (1) of Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.”
They all pleaded not guilty, while their lawyer, Ricky Tarfa (SAN) applied for their Bail and they have been on bail since.
However, on May 19,2015 four companies associated with the former Enugu State governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, pleaded guilty, consequently the EFCC prosecutor urged the court to convict them and make order forfeiting them to the Federal Government.
The four companies – Rainbownet Nigeria Limited, Cosmos FM, Capital City Automobile Nigeria Limited and Renaissance University Teaching Hospital – were convicted by the trial judge, Mohammed Yinusa, after pleading guilty to a 10-count amended charge preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Counsel to the anti-graft agency, Kelvin Uzozie, prayed the court to make an order of final forfeiture of the companies based on their plea.
On the 7th of July, 2015, Justice Yinusa on reviewing the facts before him convicted the companies and made an order of final forfeiture of their assets to the Federal Government of Nigeria, citing provision of the EFCC Establishment Act on Final Forfeiture
All the properties are located across the five states in the South East geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
Among them are 22 Duplex buildings in Ebeano Under Tunnel Estate now known as Fidelity Estate; Renaissance University Teaching Hospital; Cosmos 105.5 FM Digital Station (Ceuna Communications); and Capital City Automobile Limited, located at 12 Station Road ,GRA, Enugu.
Others are properties of Hill Gate Investment which include: Plot Number H12, H13, H14, H15, H21`, H116, H188, Plot 10, Plot H11, Plot H16, Plot H17, Plot H18, Plot 19, Plot H20, Plot H49, Plot H50, Plot H117, CP/4 (HCR2), CP5 (HCR2) CP/6(HCR2) CP/7 (HCR2) CP/8.
The assets also include several undeveloped property and plots of land of Rainbownet Nigeria Limited in Enugu, Abakaliki, Aba, Owerri, Onitsha, Awka and Umuahia.
Also, property of Rainbownet Communication which include BTS, Microwave Avenue Radio, Rectifiere, and many equipment in various sites in Anambra State were forfeited to the federal government.
Aside these landed properties, worth over N35 million from the frozen bank accounts of the companies were forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Thereafter Mr. Uzozie said the anti graft agency had sought for a separate trial of the companies as the first accused person, Dr. Nnamani, had stalled proceedings of the trial on account of frequent application to travel abroad for medical treatment on grounds of ill-health.