Is This The End Of Rochas Okorocha’s Corruption Trial?
The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, admitted a former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, to bail.
Mr Okorocha and his co-defendant, Anyim Nyerere, on Monday, pleaded not guilty to allegations of stealing N2.9 billion public funds while the former was in office.
Subsequently, the defendants filed their separate bail requests.
Mr Okorocha’s lawyer, Solomon Umoh, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), while arguing the bail application, begged the judge, Inyang Ekwo, to admit his client to bail on “liberal terms.”
He contended that it was within Mr Okorocha’s “constitutional right” to be granted based on the doctrine of “presumption of innocence.”
“The (bail) applicant (Mr Okorocha) has been a man known in this society, therefore , the procesecution’s (EFCC) contention that he could not be served with the charge is not true as he could have been served through subbstituted means,” Mr Umoh told the judge.
The defence lawyer asked the judge to admit Mr Okorocha to bail on self-recognisance. “We beg the court that the applicant be admitted to bail on liberal terms.”
Similarly, Mr Nyerere through his lawyer, Oba Maduabuchi, asked the court to admit him to bail based on the earlier administrative bail granted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
“There is no day that he (Mr Nyerere) was requested to come to court that he did not come,” Mr Maduabuchi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), told the court.
EFCC opposes bail
But the EFCC opposed the Messrs Okorocha and Nyerere’s bail requests.
The lawyer to the anti-graft agency, O.C Ugwu, while opposing the defendants bail applications, chronicled how Mr Okorocha evaded service of court documents.
“On two consecutive occasions, the 1st defendant (Mr Okorocha) frustrated his arraignment by refusing to appear in court,” the prosecuting lawyer told the judge.
Mr Ugwu argued that Mr Nyerere “will jeopardise the criminal administration system if granted bail.”
“He will tamper with evidence and compromise witnesses because he is directly linked to the alleged crimes,” he contended.
But in a ruling, the judge admitted Mr Okorocha to a N500 million bail.
Mr Ekwo said bail is at the discretion of the court.
The judge further noted that the constitution provides for the defendant to be given adequate time to defend himself.
While granting Mr Okorocha bail, the judge imposed a N500 million bail bond “with one surety in a likesome who must be within the jurisdiction of this court.”
Mr Ekwo directed the Federal High Court registry to verify the documents of property to be presented as bail bond.
He also ordered Mr Okorocha to deposit his international passport with the court registry.
Mr Okorocha will remain in the custody of the EFCC pending his compliance with the bail conditions.
The judge admitted Mr Nyerere to the earlier administrative bail that was granted to him by the EFCC.
Subsequently, the Mr Ekwo adjourned the suit until November 7, for commencement of trial.
The EFCC had, in January, filed a 17-count charge against Mr Okorocha over allegations of cornering N2.9 billion public funds while in office.
But attempts to get the former Imo State governor stand trial were futile until the anti-corruption agency raided Mr Okorocha’s Abuja residence.
Mr Okorocha, who is a presidential aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was last Tuesday arrested after a six-hour siege to his home in Abuja.
He has since been held by the EFCC from where he was brought to court on Monday and Tuesday for trial.
Mr Okorocha, 59, was a two-term governor of Imo State, serving from 2011 to 2019 when he lost an intense political battle to install his son-in-law and Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu, as a successor. He, however, succeeded in winning the Imo West senatorial election for himself as a candidate of the APC.
His co-accused, Mr Nyerere, open-source searches show, was the APC governorship candidate in the 2015 Abia State election and currently serves as a commissioner at the National Pension Commission.
Mr Nyerere features in all the 17 charges and is accused of conspiring with Mr Okorocha to steal and launder N2.9 billion belonging to Imo State and local government areas in the state in contravention of the Money Laundering Act 2011. As Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) searches showed, he owns or controls three of the charged companies, namely Consolid, Pramif, and Legend World, all registered in Abuja.
According to the EFCC charges, the stolen funds were diverted between October 2014 and February 2016 from the Imo State Government House account and Imo State Joint Local Government Project account.