A Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State on Thursday adjourned the N4.5 billion money laundering trial of former Enugu State Governor Chimaroke Nnamani to Monday, December 4.
Mr. Namani’s attorney, M. Bamidele, said he was served with the hearing notice six days ago, but he has been unable to contact his client, who is out of the country.
The prosecutor, Kelvin Uzozie, was also absent, but had written the court asking for adjournment. Justice Chuka Obizor consequently adjourned the matter till December 4.
Mr. Bamidele objected to the date, saying that his client might not be able to make it, but the judge maintained that the arraignment would be held on December 4.
This fresh arraignment is coming ten years after the ex-governor was first arraigned for his alleged involvement in a N4.5 billion money laundering scheme.
Mr. Nnamani had been arraigned before Justice Tijani Abubakar and re-arraigned before Justice Charles Archibong when Tijani Abubakar was elevated to the Court of Appeal. He was later re-arraigned before Justice Mohammed Yinusa when Justice Archibong retired.
The former governor was re-arraigned on a 105-count charge of money laundering and economic crimes to the tune of N4.5 billion.
The case was finally re-assigned to Justice Chuka Obiozor.
Mr. Nnamani is being arraigned alongside his former aide, Sunday Anyaogu, and six organizations linked to the duo: Rainbownet Nigeria Ltd, Hillgate Nigeria Ltd, Cosmos FM, Capital City Automobile Nigeria Ltd, Renaissance University Teaching Hospital and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School.
At Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Bamidele told the court that Mr. Nnamani should be the only defendant in the charge, as the six organizations have already been convicted.
Mr. Nnamani and his aide allegedly committed the financial crimes during his tenure as governor of Enugu State from 1999 to 2007.
According to the charges brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Nnamani conspired with others to launder various statutory allocations of Aninri, Enugu South, Agwu, Igbo Ekiti, and Isi Uzor local government areas of Enugu State.
In count nine, Mr. Nnamani was alleged to have stolen N1.4 billion from the Excess Crude Oil Funds allocated to the local government areas in the state.
The former governor, through the help of one Chinero Nwigwe, who is now at large, was also alleged to have fraudulently transferred millions of dollars of Enugu State funds to his personal accounts in the United States of America.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Chimaroke Nnamani, Sunday Onyeakazuru Anyaogu, Rainbownet Nig Ltd, Hillgate Nig Ltd, Cosmos FM, Capital City Automobile Nig Ltd, Renaissance University Teaching Hospital and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School, sometime in March 2007, within the jurisdiction of this honorable court, did transfer $1,556,994.02 ($1.5m) to the foreign account in the United States of America (in which Chimaroke Nnamani and Chinero Nwigwe are sole signatories to the account), which sum you knew represented the proceeds of crime with the aim of concealing the nature of the proceeds of the said crime and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 14 (1) of Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.”
They all pleaded not guilty, while their lawyer, Ricky Tarfa, applied for their bail, which was granted.
However, on May 19, 2015, four companies associated with the former Enugu State governor pleaded guilty, and consequently the EFCC prosecutor urged the court to convict them and forfeit them to the federal government.
The four companies – Rainbownet Nigeria Limited, Cosmos FM, Capital City Automobile Nigeria Limited and Renaissance University Teaching Hospital – were convicted by the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Yinusa, after pleading guilty to a 10-count amended charge preferred against them by the EFCC.
Counsel to the anti-graft agency, Kelvin Uzozie, requested the court to make an order of final forfeiture of the companies based on their plea.
On the July 7, 2015, Justice Yinusa, on reviewing the facts before him, convicted the companies and made an order of final forfeiture of their assets to the federal government of Nigeria, citing a provision of the EFCC Establishment Act on Final Forfeiture
The assets include properties located across the five states in the South-East geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
Among them are 22 duplex buildings in Ebeano Under Tunnel Estate, now known as Fidelity Estate; Renaissance University Teaching Hospital; Cosmos 105.5 FM Digital Station (Ceuna Communications); and Capital City Automobile Limited, located at 12 Station Road, GRA , Enugu.
Others are properties of Hill Gate Investment, including Plot Number H12, H13, H14, H15, H21`, H116, H188, Plot 10, Plot H11, Plot H16, Plot H17, Plot H18, Plot 19, Plot H20, Plot H49, Plot H50, Plot H117, CP/4 (HCR2), CP5 (HCR2) CP/6(HCR2) CP/7 (HCR2) CP/8.
The assets also include several undeveloped properties and plots of land belonging to Rainbownet Nigeria Limited in Enugu, Abakaliki, Aba, Owerri, Onitsha, Awka and Umuahia.
Aside from these landed properties, assets worth over N35 million from the frozen bank accounts of the companies were forfeited to the federal government.
Thereafter, Mr. Uzozie said the anti-graft agency had sought for a separate trial of the companies, as the first accused person, Mr. Nnamani, had stalled proceedings of the trial on account of his frequent applications to travel abroad for medical treatment.