Some associates of wanted Niger Delta militant, Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo), have asked the Federal High Court in Lagos to quash a N47.8billion fraud charge brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Tompolo and others were arraigned in absentia on April 18 on 22 counts of conspiracy, stealing, advance fee fraud and money laundering.
He was charged along with a former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency’s (NIMASA’s) Director-General Patrick Akpobolokemi, who pleaded not guilty.
Others are Kime Engozu, Josephine Otuaga, Rita Uruakpa, Mieka Dive Training Institute Ltd/GTE, Oyeinteke Global Network Limited, Wabod Global Resources Ltd, Boloboere Properties Estate Ltd, Gokaid Marine Oil and Gas Ltd, Muhaabix Global Services Ltd and Watershed Associated Resources.
Also named in the charge are Akpobolokemi’s four brothers – Victor, Nobert, Emmanuel and Clement – said to be at large. They were said to have aided the suspects commit the fraud.
The trial was stalled due to the absence of prosecution counsel Mr Festus Keyamo, who wrote to inform the court that a principal prosecution witness would not be available.
One of the defence counsel, Oyesoji Oyeleke (SAN), said he filed a preliminary objection challenging the competence of the charge.
He argued that since the prosecution failed to depose to an affidavit stating that it had concluded its investigation, the court should strike out the charge.
Another defence counsel, Sylvester Ekweme, representing one of Akpobolokemi’s brothers, Clement, said his client had been in detention since April, adding that his bail application was still pending.
EFCC alleged that the defendants conspired among themselves to defraud the Federal Government of the sum between December 2, 2014 and last April 10.
The EFCC claimed that the accused persons of “falsely pretending to the Federal Government that a parcel of land and its appurtenances situated at Mieka Dive Training Institute, Kurutie, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State had been acquired by NIMASA for the temporary campus of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko.”
The alleged offence violates Section 1 (b) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other fraud related Offences Act, 2006 and were liable to punishment under Section 1(3) of the same Act.
The defendants were also accused of swindling the Federal Government to the tune of N11.940billion, by presenting a forged Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy of Bendel State of Nigeria dated May 6, 2014 to NIMASA on the false claim that the forged document was genuine and issued by Warri South-West Local Council, Delta State.
Some staff members of Global West Vessel Specialist Limited stormed the court yesterday to protest the alleged non-payment of their salaries for 15 months.
The company was charged along with Tompolo, Akpobolokemi and others in a separate case.
EFCC, in the 40-count charge before also before Justice Ibrahim Buba, said the suspects allegedly diverted N34 billion for personal use.
It alleged the money accrued from the public private partnership agreement between NIMASA and Global West Vessel Specialist, said to be owned by Tompolo.
The workers said due to the freezing of the company’s accounts, their salaries had not been paid for the past 15 months.
They bore placards, which read, “Global West is not owned by Tompolo”, “We are suffering, some of our colleagues have died in the process”, “Global West Vessel Specialist Limited workers need our 15 months salaries” and “Mr President save our soul; we are in support of your government, we are not militants”.
One of the workers, Roland Omobude, said, “If the company has a case, are we, the workers, to suffer for this case? Can’t they identify the people that are involved in this case and pick them up? Let them pay us our salary. Some of our colleagues have died. About four or five people have died in the process. We are about 350 workers; we are in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri and Bayelsa.
“They said the EFCC has frozen the accounts of Global West and since they’ve frozen the account since last year when this new Buhari regime came, nothing has been done. And without them defreezing this account nothing can be done. We are begging the Federal Government, we are begging everybody in this country to come to our aid; we are suffering.”
Justice Ibrahim Buba adjourned the first case till November 10 for hearing of pending applications. He fixed trial for December 13 and 14.
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