A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday issued a bench warrant for the arrest and production in court of a former Governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamani, over alleged laundering of N4.5 billion.
The court issued the order following the absence of the accused to stand trial.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged Nnamani alongside his former aide, Sunday Anyaogu, over the alleged laundering of the money.
Also charged are six firms, namely: Rainbownet Nigeria Ltd, Hillgate Nigeria Ltd, Cosmo FM, Capital City Automobile Nigeria Ltd, Renaissance University Teaching Hospital and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School.
The ex-governor and his co-accused were said to have allegedly lodged the laundered sum in a secret account, with the aim of concealing its source.
When the case was called on Monday, Mr Kelvin Uzozie announced appearance for the prosecution, while Mr Abubakar Shamsudeen appeared for the accused.
The prosecution then informed the court of the absence of the accused and prayed the court for a bench warrant against the accused, as well as a summons for the sureties to appear and show cause.
Meanwhile, in his submissions before the court, the defence counsel, Shamsudeen urged the court to grant an adjournment until January 2018, to enable counsel to contact family members of the accused and get across to him.
Shamsudeen stressed that the accused was bedridden in the U.S. due to a surgery he had undergone, adding that other accused had entered a plea bargain in the matter.
He urged the court to grant a further adjournment.
In reaction, the trial judge, Justice Chuka Obiozor, asked the defence counsel, “You seem to be very knowledgeable in the matter, so tell me when was the plea bargain?”
Shamsudeen, in response, said he was not so sure of the date but added that it was between May and June 2015.
Obiozor then asked, “So from 2015 till now, what happened?”
In response, Shamsudeen explained to the court that the health condition of the accused was part of the major reason why a plea bargain was made.
He added that although the first and second accused had pleaded not guilty to the charge before the court, the first accused had interest in the other companies joined as accused.
Justice Obiozor then said:
“A defendant may be guilty or not guilty but the law requires such defendant to appear and stand trial, and the sole duty of the Court is to do justice.
“You are asking for an adjournment till January when this case has lingered on since 2007, which is almost 10 years.
“Justice as we all know is a-three way traffic and once it is lagging, you blame the judiciary.
“This is not a case of more haste and less speed; no, I won’t allow that in my court; this is a 2007 charge and up till now, we are still talking of plea.
“This matter was slated for re-arraignment today, and I have not found any justification for the absence of the accused before this court, to take their pleas.
“There must be an end to litigation; the charge before me was filed in 2007 and it is now 10 years.
“In the peculiar circumstances of this case, and particularly in the absence of any convincing explanation on the absence of the defendants before this court today, it is hereby ordered:
“That a bench warrant be issued against the first and second defendants, as well as a summons for the sureties to show cause.
“Consequently, this case is adjourned until December 14, for further proceedings”.
Nnamani was earlier arraigned before Justice Tijani Abubakar and re-arraigned before Justice Charles Archibong when Tijani Abubakar was elevated to the Court of Appeal and later re-arraigned before Mohammed Yinusa when Justice Archibong retired.
The former governor was re-arraigned on a 105-count charge of money laundering and economic crime, to the tune of N4.5 billion.
The case has just been reassigned to Obiozor, to start afresh.
According to the commission, their alleged offence contravened the provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, and the EFCC Act, 2004.