The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has alleged that there was a plot to frustrate the trial of a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi.
He and three others were arraigned last Friday before Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court. They were accused of converting N2.6billion as well as defrauding the Federal Government to the tune of N795.2million.
Their trial was billed to begin yesterday but counsel for the third defendant, Lanre Olayinka, was absent. He wrote the court, saying he travelled abroad for an urgent medical treatment.
But EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, said Olayinka’s absence was a ploy to delay the trial. “My learned friend did not provide sufficient explanation. There is nothing stating the whereabouts of other lawyers in his chambers.
“When the case was adjourned last Friday, he never mentioned that he planned to travel or that he booked a ticket.
“This is a clear manifestation of the defendant’s determination not to allow this matter to go on,” he said.
Oyedepo urged the court not to grant an adjournment, saying he was ready to go on with the case having brought two of his witnesses.
However, Akpobolokemi’s lawyer, Joseph Nwobike (SAN), said he needed more time to discuss with his client.
“The point is that it will be difficult to represent the first defendant when I have not conferred with him,” he said.
Ruling, Justice Buba said the “days of luxury” for the judge, lawyers and defendants during trials were over.
“You cannot delay this trial. You can take it to another court, but you cannot stall the trial in this court. If anybody is not comfortable, let me return the case file to the Chief Judge,” he said.
“Whether the defendants are able to perfect their bail terms or not, it should not affect the trial of this case, because even if an accused is not granted bail, he can still prepare his case.
“It is fair enough that this court, conscious of the day to day trial, granted bail to all the accused without any formality. Notwithstanding the non-perfection of the bail condition, this court would have gone on with the trial.
“The only snag is that third accused is not represented. Olayinka’s letter, to this court, is of no moment because he was in court with Shamsudeen Abubakar last Friday when this matter was adjourned till Monday.
“This court must warn that any counsel who takes up a defence of an accused must come to terms with the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, which has limited the number of adjournments to not more than five times,” the Judge added. He thereafter fixed December 14 for trial of the accused.
Akpobolokemi is standing trial alongside Capt. Ezekiel Bala Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Amaechi Juan and two companies; Blockz and Stonez Ltd., and Al-Kenzo Logistic Ltd., on a 22-count charge bordering on conversion and theft.
The accused are facing a separate criminal trial before Justice Saliu Saidu on a 30-count charge, bordering on conversion and stealing. They were arraigned before Justice Saidu on December 3 and before Justice Buba on separate charges the following day.
They all pleaded not guilty to the charges and were each granted bail by Justice Buba in the sum of N50 million with two sureties in like sum.
In the charge jointly signed by Festus Keyamo and Rotimi Iseoluwa, the accused were said to have committed the alleged offences between December 2013 and March 2014.
The prosecution alleged that in February 2014 in Lagos, the accused persons conspired to convert about N437 million belonging to NIMASA. They were also accused of converting about N66 million to their private use on Jan. 9, 2014, and between April and August, 2014, they converted N21 million and N53 million, respectively, to their use. The offences, the prosecution said, contravened Sections, 15 (1), 15 (3) and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2012.
In the trial before Justice Saidu, Akpobolokemi and nine others were accused of conspiring among themselves to convert N3.4billion belonging to NIMASA, which the EFCC lawyers said was “derived from stealing.”
Justice Saidu granted Akpobolokemi bail for N100 million with two sureties in like sum. One of the sureties must be his relative and must own a landed property in the highbrow Lekki, Ikoyi or Victoria Island. He ordered the accused persons to be remanded in prison custody pending the perfection of their bail conditions.
The judge adjourned to January 29, 2016 for trial.
By Pita Ochai