From Godwin Tsa, Abuja 

The Federal High Court in Abuja has struck out the 17-count money laundering charge filed against former governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Justice Inyang Ekwo, in his ruling yesterday, consequently discharged the ex-governor, now a serving senator, of the money laundering allegation against him.

Justice Ekwo predicated his decision on the refusal of the prosecution counsel to comply with a directive the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, gave for the case-file to be forwarded to him for a review.

While faulting the prosecution for non-compliance, Justice Ekwo, said: “No law enforcement agency is statutorily empowered to proceed with any criminal trial where the HAGF, pursuant to the provision of Section 105 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, has requested for the case file or given directive concerning the case.

“If there is an ongoing proceeding, when the law enforcement agency receives the directive or request from the HAGF, the proceeding must abate at that point, until the HAGF gives further directives to the law enforcement agency,” Justice Ekwo held.

Okorocha was charged before the court alongside a chieftain of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) in the state, Mr. Anyim Nyerere Chinenye, and five companies, Naphtali International Limited, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Limited, Consolid Projects Consulting Limited, Pramif International Limited, and Legend World Concepts Limited.

The anti-graft agency had alleged that the defendants conspired and diverted funds belonging to Imo State. 

In addition, the EFCC told the court that the defendants sequentially siphoned funds from the Imo State Government House account and Imo State Joint Local Government Project account, and diverted the same into accounts of private firms for their personal use. 

The prosecution claimed that the alleged offence was committed between October 2014 and February 2016. However, the defendants, who had earlier pleaded not guilty to the charge, persuaded the court to release them on bail, pending the determination of the charge against them.

Okorocha, who is currently the senator representing Imo West, through his team of lawyers, led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, subsequently filed a preliminary objection to challenge the competence of the charge against him. 

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The former governor prayed the court to quash all the allegations the EFCC levelled against him in the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/28/22.

Describing the charge against him as “unlawful, baseless, oppressive and a gross abuse of the court”, Okorocha further applied to be discharged and acquitted. 

He contended that EFCC’s investigation, which precipitated the charge against him, was the subject matter of an earlier suit that was marked: FCH/PH/FHR/165/2021.

He told the court that another court of competent jurisdiction had declared EFCC’s action against him as unlawful and issued an order that prohibited the agency from proceeding with its investigations on the subject matter. 

He told the court that the EFCC, in disobedience to the subsisting judgement, proceeded to arrest and arraign him on money laundering allegations that bordered on issues that were already determined by another court.

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However, EFCC urged the court to dismiss Okorocha’s objection, insisting that it adduced sufficient evidence to nail the defendant to the charge against him. It said that preliminary findings showed that between 2014 and 2018, the aggregate sum of N1 billion and over N8 million were transferred from the local government account of the state.

EFCC told the court that the transfer was done under the guise of mobilisation for the building of 28 hospitals across every local government in the state, through different companies, including Bureau De Change operators, to a company which provided a lease of Learjet 45XR Aircraft for the personal use of the former governor.

The commission alleged that between January and April 2019, over N6 billion was transferred to different companies from the Imo State Joint State Local Government Project Account domiciled in Zenith Bank, based on Okorocha’s directives without contract documentation or evidence of contract execution.

It further alleged that over N50 billion was moved from the treasury of the Imo government under the guise of execution of projects through proxy companies and nominees during Okorocha’s administration.

The prosecution told the court that the charge filed against the defendants had three voluminous and comprehensive proof of evidence that established the nexus between the defendants and allegations against them.