Alleged N1.5bn fraud: Omatseye asks court to stay proceedings

A Federal High Court in Lagos has further adjourned till February 26 the trial of a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Temisan Omatseye, accused of N1.5bn contract scam.

The adjournment followed Omatseye’s application asking Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia to stay further proceedings pending the outcome of an appeal, which he filed against the dismissal of his no-case application.

The trial judge yesterday, after being informed of the pending appeal and the application to stay proceedings, decided to adjourn in order to decide whether or not she would stay proceedings as Omatseye had requested.

Ofili-Ajumogobia had, on February 2, 2015, dismissed the no-case application filed by Omatseye in response to the prosecution.

The judge had ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had made a case strong enough to warrant Omatseye to canvass argument to exonerate himself of the charges.

But in his three grounds of appeal against the ruling, Omatseye asked the appellate court to determine “whether the learned trial judge did nor err in law when the court held that a prima facie case has been established by the prosecution against the appellant sufficient to call on the appellant to enter his defence to the charges.”

The anti-graft agency had alleged that Omatseye, while in public office, engaged in contract splitting and bid rigging estimated at over N1.5bn.

The offence, according to the EFCC, contravenes Section 58(4) (d) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.

Omatseye is also charged with money laundering contrary to Sections 14(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.

But upon his re-arraignment before Ofii-Ajumogobia on January 21, 2013, he had pleaded not guilty to the alleged crime, following which the court asked the prosecution to substantiate its claims.

In doing so, the prosecution, represented by Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), called three witnesses including an EFCC Investigator, Ibrahim Ahmed; a former Acting Director of Procurement with NIMASA, Mohammed Shehu; and an officer of the Bureau of Public Procurement, Aminu Aliyu.

But when called upon to respond to the EFCC, Omatseye, through his lawyer, Olusina Sofola (SAN), submitted that the charge filed against him was defective.

He added that the prosecution had failed in the final analysis to establish a prima facie case against him to warrant him to enter the dock to defend himself.

But Ofili-Ajumogobia had held that she had no difficulty in agreeing with the prosecution that the charge filed against Omatseye was properly drafted in accordance with the provision of the Public Procurement Act.

She held, “On the whole, I find the defendant’s application to be lacking in merit; the applicant has failed woefully in his attempt to discredit the evidence adduced by prosecution in this case.

“At this stage of a trial, all that the court is required to do, is to satisfy itself that there is some tenable quantum of evidence before it links the accused to the offence.

“Having stated this much, the proper order which I think this court should make in the circumstance, is to dismiss this application in its entirety, and I so do.

“The applicant is therefore, called upon to enter his defence. This is my ruling as read out in open court.”

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