Strike Stalls Judgment in Ogbulafor’s Trial for Alleged Fraud

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The ongoing strike by court workers yesterday stalled the scheduled judgment in the trial of former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Vincent Ogbulafor, and one other.

Justice Ishaq Bello of the Abuja High Court sitting in Maitama, Abuja had on June 24 reserved judgment for yesterday after the prosecutor and the defence made final submissions.

Yesterday, the court’s main gate remained locked as workers continued to comply with a directive of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to stay away from work.

The workers are on strike to protest non-implementation of a judgment of the Federal High Court which forbade the executive from tampering with the funds allocated to the judiciary.
Security men at the court said the court would remain locked until the strike  was called off.

Ogbulafor and a former Secretary of the National Economic Intelligence Committee, Emeka Ebila, are being tried by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on a 16-count of money laundering and fraud involving about N170m.

The ICPC arraigned the duo on May 10, 2010, alleging that Ogbulafor, while serving as Minister of State for Special Duties in 2001 conspired with the others to float three fictitious companies, with which they allegedly perpetrated the fraud.

The accused were alleged to have used Henrichiko Nigeria Limited, DHL Consultants and Chekwas Industries, to fraudulently obtain N82.6million, N11.5million and N6.2million, respectively, in 2001.

Ogbulafor was particularly accused of using his position as the head of the National Economic Intelligence Committee, set up to verify debts owed local contractors, to okay as genuine, several forged documents.

He was alleged to have relied on the forged documents to certify that the three fake companies successfully executed jobs worth N104million. The former PDP chairman was also alleged to have collected kickbacks of N2million and N28million from Ebilah.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was granted bail.
The offences allegedly committed by the accused contravened Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.

Ogbulafor’s lawyer, John Egwuonwu had, while adopting his final written address on June 24 urged the court to discharge and acquit his client on all the counts. He argued that the prosecution’s case failed to link his client to the commission of any crime.

Egwuonwu urged the court to jettison the allegation in Ebila’s “confessional statement” that the sum of N28million was paid to Ogbulafor with two bank drafts.

He contended that his client denied being issued the drafts when it was shown to him.

He noted that not only did the prosecution refuse to tender the drafts as exhibits, it also did not investigate the details contained in the drafts.

“The drafts referred to in the statements made by the second accused person (Ebila) cannot be relied on by the court to decide  whether or not the first accused (Ogbulafor) took the benefit of them since they were not tendered in court.

“No money relating to that amount (N28m) was traced to the first accused either in his bank account or companies,” Egwuonwu said.

Lawyer to Ebila, Mrs. Eghwere Osiaje, while adopting her address, also urged the court to discharge her client.
Osiaje said she raised three questions of law in her address for the trial court to refer to the Court of Appeal for determination, before deciding the case.

She submitted that the appellate court’s answer to  her question should guide the trial court in arriving at its decision.

Prosecution lawyer, Marcus Abu, while adopting his final address urged the court to hold that the prosecution has proven its case against the accused persons beyond reasonable doubt.

He urged the court to reject the suggestion of referring the case to the appellate court as requested by Ebila’s lawyer.
He said the questions raised were what the trial court could resolve.

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