Babachir Lawal: Court fix date for trial of ex-SGF over alleged N544m fraud

A Federal Capital Territory High Court, Jabi, Abuja, has fixed January 20th to 22nd 2021 for the trial of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and six others, for alleged fraudulent N544m grass cutting contract. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday re-arraigned the ex-SGF before Justice Charles Agbaza of the High Court, on a 10 count charge bothering on fraud, to which the defendants pleaded not guilty.

The EFCC had alleged in the 10 counts, that the defendants fraudulently converted cumulative proceeds of grass cutting contracts worth over N500m which Lawal, as then SGF, allegedly awarded to the companies in which he had interests. Counsel to the ex-SGF, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), pleaded with the judge to allow his client continue to enjoy the bail conditions granted to them by the former judge. Recall that Lawal, along with his younger brother, Hamidu Lawal, Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh Monday, and two companies – Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd – was initially arraigned before the late Justice Okeke on February 13, 2019.

The re-arraignment, which is the second time since the case started, followed the demise of the former trial judge, Justice Jude Okeke, on August 4, 2020. The prosecuting counsel, Offem Uket, was to open his case on March 18, 2019, when he announced that he had amended the 10 counts, bordering on fraud, diversion of over N544m, and criminal conspiracy. The development prompted the need for a re-arraignment of the defendants, who again pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The trial had proceeded before Justice Okeke with the EFCC still calling its witnesses when the judge died. Following the judge’s demise, the case was re-assigned to Justice Agbaza before whom the case was rescheduled to start afresh on Monday. In delivering his verdict, Justice Agbaza stated that the defendants will continue to enjoy bail conditions granted to them by the Court, because they have abided by all bail conditions and have presented themselves in court at all times as requested. Aside from Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), who represented the ex-SGF, the rest of the defence lawyers are Mr Sunday Ameh (SAN), Napoleon Idenala, Ocholi Okutepa, and Marcel Oru.

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