*Adjourned Jan 20 to 22, 2021
ANDREW OROLUA, ABUJA.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), has re-arraigned a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and six others on 10 count amended charge for involvement in the alleged fraudulent N544m grass cutting contract.
The defendants: Babachir Lawal with his younger brother, Hamidu Lawal, Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh Monday, and two companies – Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd were re-arraigned before Justice Justice Charles Agbaza of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Jabi, Abuja.
The defendants who were first arraigned on February 13,2019 before Justice Jude Okeke also pleaded not guilty to the charges on Monday.
Recall that following the demise of Justice Okeke on August 4, 2020 the matter was transferred to Justice Agbaza for the matter to start afresh.
The prosecuting counsel, Offem Uket, was to open his case on March 18, 2019, when he announced that he had amended the 10 counts, bordering on fraud, diversion of over N544m, and criminal conspiracy.
The development prompted the need for a re-arraignment of the defendants, who again pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The trial had proceeded before Justice Okeke with the EFCC still calling its witnesses when the judge died.
When the matter came up on Monday the charges were to the defendants. After the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges, the defence lawyers pleaded with the judge to allow their clients to continue to enjoy the bail already granted them by the former judge.
Aside from Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), who represented the ex-SGF, the rest of the defence lawyers are Mr Sunday Ameh (SAN), Napoleon Idenala, Ocholi Okutepa, and Marcel Oru.
The lawyers had separately pleaded with the court to allow their clients to continue to enjoy the bail granted by late Justice Jude Okeke who was hearing the matter before his demise. They said the defendants will continue to keep to the term of their bails. The defendants also undertake to attend to their trial.
Justice Agbaza granted the prayers of the defence lawyers and allowed the defendants to continue to enjoy the term of bail granted them by late Justice Okeke. He obliged the request on the grounds that from the record they have attended the trial.
The EFCC had alleged, among others in the 10 counts, that the defendants fraudulently converted cumulative proceeds of grass cutting contracts worth over N500m which Lawal, as then SGF, allegedly awarded to the companies in which he had interests.
The matter has been adjourned to January 20 to 22 for trial.