A Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja, on Friday, ordered Mr Chinenye Duru, a Polaris Bank staff and account officer to Mr Victor Onukogu, to be remanded in a correctional facility over alleged N16.6 billion fraud. Justice Inyang Ekwo gave the order after Duru was arraigned by the office of the Inspector-General (I-G) of Police and pleaded not guilty to the 11-count charge preferred against him.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that while the I-G is the complainant in the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/603/2023, Polaris Bank Plc and Duru are 1st and 2nd defendants.
Upon resumed hearing, I-G’s counsel, Abdulrasheed Sidi, informed the court that the matter was fixed for arraignment.
But Duru’s lawyer Chukwuemeka Kalu, said though they were ready for the plea, the prosecution was in contempt of the FHC’s order and cannot be heard
“When I finish with the plea, you can say what you want to say,” Justice Ekwo declared.
Adedapo Adejumo, who appeared for Polaris Bank, said a plea of not guilty should be entered for his client.
After the 11 counts were read to Duru and he pleaded not guilty, Sidi applied for a date for trial.
But Kalu said on the taking of plea, a fundamental issues on the conduct of the prosecution had been raised.
The lawyer said though he was not objecting to a date for trial, he said during Duru’s detention, they approached the court for the enforcement of his right.
“The matter was before your learner brother, Hon. Justice D.U. Okorowo, who ordered for the interim release of the 2nd defendant on bail.
“The conditions for the bail were fulfilled on this same matter between the parties
“It was based on whether the prosecution will continue with investigation or prosecution of the 2nd defendant while the EFCC is doing the same,” he said.
Kalu said despite serving the court order on the I-G, they refused to comply with the directive, “upon which we commenced a contempt proceeding against him before this court.”
He said Forms 48 and 49 had been served on the I-G.
“We believe the Inspector-General of Police cannot take this court for granted on this same matter by bringing the 2nd defendant before the court,” he added.
The judge told Kalu that what was before him currently was a charge against Duru which plea had been taken.
He said if the lawyer had any objection to the trial proceedings or any other matter relating to the charge, he should look at the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) and comply with it and the court would look at his application and make a decision.
“I cannot preside over the proceedings even though it is the same court, it is presided over by a different judge.
“If you have any issue, you will spend time looking at how to approach it as prescribed by the law.
“Plea has been taken, I have to take two decisions, one is on the remand of the 2nd defendant and the other is the date for trial,” the judge said.
But Kalu said he had the order for his release before the court and that under Section 158 of the ACJA, the court had the power to admit the Duru to bail.
“Where is your application for bail?” Justice Ekwo asked.
The lawyer responded that they were standing on the already existing order by Justice Okorowo.
“Did you file it?,” the judge asked.
“We did not but the order is already before the court,” he responded.
Justice Ekwo then said that he would make two orders; one for the trial and the other for Duru’s remand, but if Kalu files the bail application, a date would be given to hear it.
“How many witnesses are you calling?” he asked the police lawyer and Sidi said five witnesses.
The judge, who adjourned the matter until April 23, April 24 and April 25 for trial, ordered Duru to be remanded in a correctional centre pending further orders of the court.
NAN reports that in count one, Polaris Bank and Duru were alleged to have between Nov. 17, 2017, and Aug 14, 2023, fraudulently withdrew from Onukogu Victor Hezekiah’s account numbers: 1040495455 and 1060104735, domiciled with the bank the sum of N16 billion and N500 million.
It said that knowing that the said money did not belong to them, “and knowing the same act was wrong with the intention of converting same to your personal use and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 21 (a) and punishable under Section 18 (3) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition Act, 2022.
In count four, the defendants were alleged to have between Nov. 17, 2017 and Aug. 14, 2023, fraudulently withdrew the sum of N75. 534 million from Onukogu’s account number: 4010023601 contrary to Section 18 (2) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition Act, 2022.
In count six, they were alleged to have fraudulently withdrew the sum of N13.3 million from Hezekiah University’s account number: 40910106770.
The defendants were also alleged to have fraudulently withdrew the sum of N16.3 million between the same date from Hezekiah University’s account number: 411054152 without any authorisation from the account owner with the intention of converting same to their own personal use contrary to the Money Laundering Act, among other counts.
NAN reports that Onukogu, also known as Daddy Hezekiah, is the spiritual head of Living Christ Mission Church, Onitsha in Anambra.