ICPC arraigns Ogbulafor, trial begins June 21

THE National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, was yesterday arraigned at an Abuja High Court over his alleged complicity in defrauding government of N238 million when he was Minister of Special Duties in 2001.

Ogbulafor, who has maintained that charge of criminal conspiracy and fraud preferred against him by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) was “politically-motivated”, pleaded not guilty to the 14-count charge.

Before his arraignment, the ICPC prosecutor, Chief Adegboyega Solomon Awomolo (SAN), had first applied to the court to strike out counts 11 and 12 on the charge sheet on the premise that they could not be sustained without the fifth accused person, Emmanuel Bossah, whom he said had died.

The trial Judge, Justice Ishaq Bello, granted the application and accordingly struck out the said counts on the charge sheet having been persuaded with the death certificate of the said accused which was exhibited by ICPC.

With that formality concluded, Ogbulafor’s counsel, Chief Joe Kyari-Gadzama (SAN), proceeded to argue an informal application for bail, a practice which Judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), including Justice Bello, have over the years, been averse to.

But the irregular practice was made to sail through without any hitch as the ICPC prosecuting team led by Awomolo did not oppose the oral application, a decision many observers tied to the admonition of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).

When he took over as the country’s Chief Law Officer, Bello Adoke had, during a courtesy call on the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri, identified one of the delays in criminal trial as the undue objection of the anti-graft agencies to bail for accused persons.

“Bail is a right accused persons are entitled to. So, except there is an exceptional circumstance why an accused should not enjoy that right, there should be no reason to object to the bail application of an accused person on an offence which is ordinarily by law bailable. Such objection tends to stall trial in the long run”, Adoke had stated.

Arguing the application for bail, Gadzama had submitted that the offence for which his client was standing trial was ordinarily bailable. He also urged that the constitutional presumption of innocence of the accused person until otherwise proven should weigh heavily on the judges’ mind as he considered the application for bail, which he said was left to the discretion of the court.

Interestingly, the ICPC did not raise any objection whether to the oral application or the content thereof as against its usual practice.

In his ruling, Justice Bello held that “although it is not the practice of the court to grant an informal application, the fact that the prosecution has not raised an objection to it has made it possible for the exercise of the court’s discretion in favour of the applicant / accused person”.

Accordingly, he granted Ogbulafor and the other three accused persons bail in the sum of N5 million each with two sureties each in like sum.

As he stepped out, the PDP chief who wore a sky blue babanriga with a red cap was met with flash-lights from the army of photo-journalists who had stormed the court premises to cover his trial.

Ogbulafor and the three other accused persons were arraigned on a 14-count charge.

Count one to three reads:

* That you Vincent Ogbulafor (M), Emeka Ebilah (M) and Emmanuel Bosah (M) in the month of March 2001, being public officers, to wit; Minister In Charge of Special Duties, Secretary/ Member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC) and Director, Budget Implementation, Federal Ministry of Finance respectively, did use your positions to confer corrupt advantage upon yourselves by fraudulently receiving for yourselves through a proxy Henry Ikoh, the sum of N82,631,03.41 from the Federal Government of Nigeria in the name of a company Henchriko Nig. Ltd as payment for a fictitious contract purportedly executed for the Federal Government of Nigeria and you thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 19 of the Corruption Practices and Related Offences Act 2000.

* That you Vincent Ogbulafor (M), Emeka Ebilah (M) and Emmanuel Bosah, in the month of March 2001 or thereabouts did conspire to use the NEIC contract verification panel to verify a fictitious contract purportedly executed on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria by a company known as Henchrico Nig. Ltd and received for yourselves the sum of N82,631,031 as payment for the aforesaid contract and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 26 and punishable under Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Act 2000.

* That you Vincent Ogbulafor (M), Emeka Ebilah (M) and Emmanuel Bosah, in the month of March 2001 being public officers, to wit; Minister In Charge of Special Duties, secretary/ Member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC) and Director, Budget Implementation, Federal Ministry of Finance respectively, did use your positions to confer corrupt advantage upon yourselves by fraudulently receiving form the Federal Republic of Nigeria the sum of N11,519,906,25 through a proxy Chris Abuajah in the name of a company DHL Consultants as payment for a fictitious contract purportedly executed on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria by the aforesaid company and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 26 and punishable under Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Act 2000.

* That you Vincent Ogbulafor (M), Emeka Ebilah (M) and Emmanuel Bosah, in the month of March 2001 or thereabouts did conspire to use the NEIC contract verification panel to verify a fictitious contract purportedly executed on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria by a company known as DHL Consultants and received for yourselves the sum of N11,519,906.25 as payment for the aforesaid contract and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 26 and punishable under Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Act 2000.

In the ICPC proof of evidence, Basil Momodu, an investigator with the commission, would testify that the second and third accused persons refunded the various amounts they got as their share of the fraud at the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC) to the coffers of the Federal Government. The proof added that the accused persons conspired to verify some fictitious contracts purportedly executed by companies in which they had interest, and thereafter proceeded to ensure that these companies were paid for the non- existent contracts.

Specifically, the PDP chairman was accused of abusing his position as the Head of NEIC, established by the Federal Government to verify debts owed local contractors, to approve forged documents presented by contractors as genuine, with a view to defrauding the government.

ICPC further alleged that Ogbulafor relied on such forged documents to certify that three fake companies successfully executed jobs worth over N200 million, as the second, third, fourth and fifth accused have confessed their participation in the alleged scam and returned their shares of the alleged loot.

Both Ebilah and Ikoh (listed as second and third accused in the charge), had returned their shares of the alleged loot, which would be used as evidence in the course of the trial against all the accused, as contained in the proof of evidence.

Momodu would also testify that the accused shared the monies among themselves, adding that while the second accused supplied the companies to be used in defrauding the Federal Government, the first, second and fifth accused ensured the fictitious contracts were verified as genuine by the NEIC. The fifth accused, on his part, ensured that payments were cleared and made at the Federal Ministry of Finance.

Momodu would further state that the third accused, Ikoh, appeared before the NEIC to present the forged contract documents for verification of the debt purportedly owed Henchiriko Nig. Ltd by the Federal Government and for his role, he was paid the sum of N7,500,000, while the fourth accused, Nwokoro, who was delegated to receive the payment on behalf of Henchiriko, was paid the N6,242,622.44 through one Col. Austin Akobundu.

For his role in ensuring that the Federal Ministry of Finance settled the claims of the companies, the fifth accused was paid the sum of N44 million in two instalments of N15 million and N29 million through a company, Emotech Nig. Ltd.

The witness would further testify that his investigations revealed that the fifth accused instructed Ogbulafor to pay him his part of the loot through Emotech Nig Ltd, because he had an arrangement with the proprietor of the said Emotech Nig Ltd, Mr. Emmanuel Okocha, to clear the cheques for him and to avoid any direct link between the second and the fifth accused.

The fifth accused, according to Momodu, also received the sum of N10 million from the second accused through a proxy called B. C. Bosah.



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