From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

The Federal High Court in Abuja declined to dismiss the nine-count money laundering charge brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against former Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State.

Justice Inyang Ekwo, in his ruling, determined that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the case against the former governor.

The judge asserted his jurisdiction to hear the charge against Obiano, while dismissing the defendant’s challenges to his trial as lacking merit. He scheduled June 24 as the start date for the full hearing of the case.

In a counter-affidavit, the EFCC maintained that it had gathered substantial evidence to secure the conviction of the former governor. The agency’s affidavit, deposed by Habu Fari, stated that the charge and the proof of evidence presented a prima facie case linking Obiano to the allegations.

The prosecution urged the court to reject Obiano’s argument that the trial should be halted due to the assertion by the Anambra state government that its funds were not missing.

In response, the EFCC argued that since the Anambra state government was not listed as a defendant in Obiano’s case, it lacked the legal standing to challenge the proceedings before the trial court.

The EFCC further contended that the charges against Obiano were not driven by malice or intended to witch-hunt him. The agency maintained that the charges were brought in good faith through a legitimate legal process and in pursuit of combating economic and financial crimes.

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Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, SAN, the prosecution counsel, emphasized that the main issue in the charge was the diversion of funds designated as Security Votes. He argued that misappropriated Security Votes could be subjected to investigation.

Justice Ekwo upheld the arguments put forth by the EFCC in his ruling on Thursday.

Willie Obiano, who served as the Governor of Anambra State from March 2014 to March 2022, was initially arrested at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos on March 17, 2022, just hours after leaving office. The EFCC alleged that he embezzled over N4 billion from the Anambra State treasury.

According to the agency, the funds were diverted from the Anambra State’s Security Vote Account, converted into dollars, and handed to Obiano in cash.

For instance, the prosecution agency informed the court that between February 16, 2018, and March 9, 2018, Obiano made a cash transaction through a non-financial institution. He instructed his then Chief Protocol Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, Uzuegbuna Okagbue, to transfer over N223 million from the Anambra State Government Security Vote Account to Connought International Services Limited. The amount was converted into $600,000 and collected in cash by Ayuba Tanko.

In another instance, between October 30, 2018, and November 13, 2018, Obiano allegedly directed Okagbue to transfer N95 million from the Anambra State Government Security Vote to the account of S. Y. Panda. The amount was converted to $260 and handed to him in cash.

The trial proceedings are set to commence on the designated date.