Alleged N6.5bn fraud: Sylva docked, remanded in EFCC custody

Alleged N6.5bn fraud: Sylva docked, remanded in EFCC custody

Trial of the former governor of Bayelsa State, Mr Timipre Sylva, who is facing corruption charges preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, kicked off on a dramatic note, yesterday, as a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered his remand in prison custody.

However, the order was reversed barely two minutes after it was made yesterday, with presiding Justice Adamu Bello directing the EFCC to keep the accused person in its custody till tomorrow when the merit of his application for bail would be determined.

 

Alleged N6.5bn fraud: Sylva docked, remanded in EFCC custody

Shortly after, Sylva who was docked at exactly 11:20 a.m, pleaded not guilty to the six-count criminal charge entered against him by the anti-graft agency, his counsel, Chief Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, begged the court to either grant him bail on self recognition or on liberal terms.

Bail application

Moving the bail application dated May 27, Fagbemi pleaded the court to take cognizance of the fact that the accused appeared for trial yesterday on his own volition.

He said: “My lord, I wish to stress the point that the offences for which the accused is standing trial are bailable offences. Secondly, the accused person, on his own volition, came to court to answer to the charge preferred against him. He has never been declared wanted, at least, there is no such evidence before this court.

“The main purpose of bail is to ensure the attendance of the accused person at the trial. My lord, enough facts and reasons have been adduced to warrant your lordship to grant the application for bail.

“We further urge your lordship to take into consideration the exaltation of the Supreme Court on the issue of bail and presumption of the accused persons’ constitutional right to innocence until his culpability is proved no matter the insinuation outside or the blackmail. My lord should consider the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Saidu Vs State, 1982, 13 NNSC, page 70, particularly at page 82, delivered by Justice Obaseki, JSC.

“Until proved guilty under appropriate laws of the land, the accused has right to walk the street, breathe Nigerian air and walk free like every other innocent man. This is why I urge my lord to make the condition for his bail liberal.

“He should be released on self recognition as former governor of Bayelsa State and the fact that he willingly submitted himself for trial.”

The said bail application was supported by an affidavit of 12 paragraphs sworn to by one Akeem Umoru.

EFCC opposes bail application

However, the EFCC, in a 16-paragraph counter-affidavit deposed to by one Seyi Bakare on May 25, opposed the bail request, saying it previously found it very difficult to trace the whereabouts of the accused person who it said vanished into thin air immediately the charge was filed.

According to EFCC lawyer, Mr Festus Keyamo, “this court has absolute discretion to either grant or refuse bail, but we urge the court to consider in this particular case, the efforts we expended to bring the accused person to court. This court has judicial notice of that fact.

“An accused person who has shown propensity to bolt away at the slightest threat of the long arms of the law around him cannot be trusted to present himself for trial.

“That the offence is bailable is not sufficient reason to grant bail, it is the availability of the accused person to face his trial that is more important. My lord, if evidence is strong and direct, the Supreme Court said trial courts should be very weary in granting bail.

“We ask the court to deny the bail application and remand the accused person. We are ready to commence trial.”

The prosecuting counsel further maintained that the only reason it did not charge Sylva to court while he was still in office was owing to the immunity clause, stressing that the same High Court had earlier okayed three of his former principal aides for prosecution over the same charge upon which he was docked yesterday.

Contending that the case against the accused person is weighty, EFCC prayed the trial court to allow him to remain in custody pending the determination of the substantive suit.

After listening to arguments from both sides, trial Justice Bello ordered that the accused be remanded in Prison custody.

Before the judge could land on his ruling, Sylva’s lawyer, Fagbemi, sprang to his feet and implored the court to vary the order and allow his client to be kept in the custody of the EFCC.

Sequel to a no objection stance by EFCC lawyer, Justice Adamu conceded to the request, adding that Sylva should be granted access to his lawyers.

Vanguard gathered that aside bank officials and Bureau de Change operators that allegedly helped the accused to launder funds from the Bayelsa State treasury, eight of his former aides had already volunteered to testify in court as prosecution witnesses.

EFCC had in a charge it filed on February 24, alleged that the erstwhile governor pilfered about N6.5 billion from the Bayelsa State treasury while he was in power.

The anti-graft agency maintained that the said fraud was perfected between October 2009 and February 2010.

EFCC alleged that the accused person looted public funds under false pretence of using the monies to augment salaries of the Bayelsa State government, just as it identified three persons whose Bank accounts it said was used as conduits pipes for transfer of the illicit funds.

Names of the said accomplices were given as Habibu Sani Maigidia, a Bureau De Change Operator with Account No. 221433478108, in Fin Bank, Plc, Enson Benmer Limited with Account No. 6152030001946, in First Bank, Plc and one John Daukoru with Account No. 04800250000418, in United Bank for Africa Plc.

Though EFCC secured an order of the court to paste the charge at the Abuja residence of the ex-governor after his whereabouts could not be ascertained, however, denying allegation that he was on the run, Sylva, through his media aide, Mr Doifie Ola, issued a statement on April 11, expressing his readiness to stand trial.

According to the statement, “With respect to insinuations in sections of the media on the whereabouts of Chief Timipre Sylva, especially since the Abuja High Court granted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) leave to paste its summons on the gate of his Abuja residence, we wish to clarify that Sylva is not on the run.

“He is not a fugitive from justice. Since January 27 when the Supreme Court removed him as Governor of Bayelsa State, Sylva has been a private citizen. As a private citizen, he has the right to move freely to wherever he wishes. It is surprising how his whereabouts had become a subject of conjecture and controversy.

“Sylva is a firm believer in the law and has been at the forefront of efforts to etch respect for law, rules and regulations on the national conscience.

“To set the record straight, Sylva has decided to keep a low profile because he does not want his security to be compromised. The whole world has been living witness to the brazen disrespect for our laws which those charged with the maintenance of law and order in the land have exhibited since the outbreak of their riotous governorship adventure in Bayelsa State. If those we all should rely on for our security could so blatantly run riot on our laws and liberties, it is not hard to determine the extent they can go against the one they have openly declared the target of all their illicit manoeuvres in the state.

“The charges brought against Sylva by EFCC are not new. They are charges for which some former and serving officials of the Bayelsa State Government have already been standing trial since April 2010.

“What the EFCC has done is to simply add Sylva’s name. Specifically, the suit brought against Sylva by the EFCC involves N2.45 billion Bayelsa State funds, not N6.450 billion as a section of the media has reported. This is because charges one, five and six refer to the same money. This is government money used for government business. Since 2010 when the matter went to court, no evidence has been produced by the prosecution to support the claim of money laundering and other financial crimes against any of the defendants.

“The last time we checked, no agency of the law has extended any invitation to Sylva, which he did not honour. As far as we know, he has not been declared wanted by any authority, local or international.

“Sylva is a believer and advocate of the rule of law. He is, as usual, undaunted and will face the current onslaught squarely. Sylva will take the necessary legal steps to discharge the present canards,” he added.

The six count charge upon which he was remanded yesterday reads: “That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, sometime between October, 2009 and February, 2010, at various places in Nigeria, including Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court did conspire to commit a crime to wit: conversion of properties and resources amounting to N2,000,000,000.00 (Two Billion Naira) belonging to Bayelsa State Government and derived from an illegal act, with the aim of concealing the illicit origin of the said amount and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 17(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act), 2004 and punishable under Section 14(1) of the same Act.

“That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, on or about the 22nd of January, 2010, at Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, converted the sum of N380,000,000.00 (Three Hundred and Eighty Million Naira), property of the Bayelsa State Government, through the account of one Habibu Sani Maigidia, a Bureau De Change Operator with Account No. 221433478108, in Fin Bank, Plc, which sum you knew represented the proceeds of an illegal act with the aim of concealing the nature of the proceeds of the said illegal act and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 14(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act) 2004 and also punishable under section 14(1) of the same Act.

“That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, on or about the 5th of February, 2010, at Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, converted the sum of N50,000,000.00 (Fifty Million Naira), property of the Bayelsa State Government, through the account of one Enson Benmer Limited with Account No. 6152030001946, in First Bank, Plc, which sum you knew represented the proceeds of an illegal act with the aim of concealing the nature of the proceeds of the said illegal act and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 14(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act) 2004 and also punishable under section 14(1) of the same Act.

“That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, on or about the 5th of February, 2010, at Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, converted the sum of N20,000,000.00 (Twenty Million Naira), property of the Bayelsa State Government, through the account of one John Daukoru with Account No. 04800250000418, in United Bank for Africa, Plc, which sum you knew represented the proceeds of an illegal act with the aim of concealing the nature of the proceeds of the said illegal act and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 14(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act) 2004 and also punishable under section 14(1) of the same Act.

“That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, sometime between October, 2009 and February, 2010, at various places in Nigeria, including Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court did conspire to commit a crime to wit: inducing Union Bank, Plc, with the intent to defraud, to deliver to Bayelsa State Government the sum of N2,000,000,000.00 (Two Billion Naira), under the false pretence of using the amount to augment salaries of the Bayelsa State Government and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 8(a) and punishable under section 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2004.

“That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, sometime between October, 2009 and February, 2010, at various places in Nigeria, including Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court induced Union Bank, Plc, with the intent to defraud, to grant an overdraft facility of the sum of N2,000,000,000.00 (Two Billion Naira) to the Bayelsa State Government under the false pretence of using the amount to augment salaries of the Bayelsa State Government and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(1)(b) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2004 and punishable under section 1(3) of the same Act.”

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