The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Wednesday, August 1, arraigned five fresh suspects implicated in the fuel subsidy scam at a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja presided over by Justice Habeeb Abiru. The five suspects: Walter Wagbatsoma, Adaoha Ugo – Ngadi, Fakuade Babafemi Ebenezer, Ezekiel Olaleye Ejidele and Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited, were arraigned on a nine count charge bordering on obtaining property by false pretences, altering, forgery and conspiracy.
The EFCC had on July 25, taken the suspects to court in order to arraign them but the absence of one of the suspects, Walter Wagbatsoma, stalled the arraignment.
Rotimi Jacobs, counsel to the EFCC, told the court the matter was for arraignment.
Thereafter, the suspects were called to the dock and the charges read to them. They all pleaded not guilty to the charges. Counsel to Wagbatsoma and Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited, Babajide Koku, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, said he had filed an application before the court, urging it to grant the defendants bail based on self- recognition. He said he hinged his prayer on the fact that his client promised to produce himself in court and he did so. Koku told the court that Wagbatsoma did not have any record of jumping bail and as such will be available for trial.
Responding, Jacobs said the prayers made by the defence counsel did not hold water. He told the court that granting the defendant bail based on self-recognition was not tenable because the defendant fled from the country to evade arrest upon learning about the charges filed against him. He said all efforts to get him arrested proved abortive and he also refused to present himself before the EFCC when he was invited.
Jacob reminded the court that charges were filed against Wagbatsoma on July 20, and that he claimed to have travelled out of the country on June 17, and returned to the country on July 3, only to take off again on the July 20, when he got wind of a charge filed against him before the court. “A letter was received by the EFCC from the defendant's company, Ontario Oil and gas Nigeria Limited that he was out of the country for medical check up and will be available the moment he returned to the country. But that letter was dated July 18. So he was still very much in the country. These are some accounts of the deceit he employed to confirm that he was evading arrest. Up till now, we have not been able to obtain his statement. He left Abuja for France by 9pm on the July 20, having got wind of this,” Jacob said. He therefore, urged the court to refuse the application as he could jump bail and run out of the country again.
Counsel to the second defendant, Wale Akanni, SAN, also prayed the court to admit his client to bail as he aligned himself to the prayers of the first defendant's counsel.
Fakunade Babafemi Ebenezer, who is the third defendant, was represented by A.A Badejo, SAN. Badejo also prayed the court to grant his client bail. He said his client is merely a supervisor who did not have any knowledge of how the subsidy was utilized. He assured the court that his client would be available for trial.
J.J Ogunyemi who appeared for the fourth defendant, Ezekiel Olaleye Ejidele, also sued for bail for his client. He promised to make him available for trial. Jacobs however, objected to all these pleas. He said based on his earlier position, all the accused persons were influential members of the public who may tamper with investigations. He urged the court to deny them bail because there are indications that they may jump bail and stall their trial.
Justice Abiru, after listening to all these arguments, granted all the accused persons bail. The first defendant (together with Ontario Oil & Gas Nigeria Limited) received bail in the sum of One hundred and fifty million naira (N150, 000,000.00), and three sureties in like sum; two of whom must have landed properties in Lagos and must all be resident in Lagos . Bail was also granted the second defendant in the sum of One hundred million naira (N100, 000, 000.00) and two sureties in like sum, one of whom must have landed property in Lagos and must all be resident in the state.
Also, the third defendant was granted bail in the sum of ten million naira (N10, 000,000.00) and two sureties in like sum, one of whom must have landed properties in Lagos and they must all be resident in Lagos. Finally, the fourth defendant was also admitted to bail in the sum of ten million naira (N10,000,000.00) and two sureties in like sum, one of whom must have landed property in Lagos and they must all be resident in Lagos.
All the sureties must show evidence of two years tax payment, must be gainfully employed with identifiable means of livelihood. The documents of the properties should be deposited with the court registrar. The documents should be verified with the Lagos State Land Registry. One of the EFCC officials who participated in the investigations should be part of the document's verification. Justice Abiru subsequently adjourned the case till 24th October 24, November 6, 7 and 8 for commencement of trial.
The judge ordered that all the accused persons should be remanded in EFCC custody pending the fulfilment of their bail conditions.
In another development, a Lagos State High court sitting in Ikeja before Justice Habeeb Abiru has granted Abdullahi Alao and Axenergy Limited bail in the sum of N100,000,000.00 (One hundred million naira only) and two sureties in like sum. Alao was docked by the EFCC, last week over his involvement in the fuel subsidy scam.
Specifically, Alao, the managing director of Axenergy Limited was docked on a seven-count charge bordering on conspiracy to obtain money by false pretences contrary to Section 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006. The accused, together with his company, Axenergy Limited allegedly obtained the sum of N2,640,141,707.75 (Two Billion, Six Hundred and Forty Million; One Hundred and Forty One Thousand; Seven Hundred and Seven Naira, Seventy Five Kobo only) being payments obtained from the Petroleum Support Fund for the purported importation of 33.3 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit.
Justice Abiru, in granting Alao bail, ruled that the sureties must posses landed properties in Lagos and must be resident in the state. The sureties should provide evidence of tax payment to the Lagos State government. The documents of the properties should be verified and deposited with the court Registrar. Addresses of the sureties should be verified by officials of the EFCC Team investigating the case. The defendant was also asked to deposit his International Passport with the Court Registrar. The court also remanded him in EFCC custody pending the fulfilment of his bail condition. The case was adjourned to October 22, 30 and 31, and November 1 for trial.