Justice Obiora Egwuatu of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, granted Ali Bello and three others bail in an alleged N3 billion fraud suit filed against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Ruling against a counter-affidavit by the EFCC counsel opposing the bail request, the judge held that the charges against the defendants were bailable and that it was to enable the defendants charged with an offence to prepare adequately for their trial.
Bello was on February 8, 2023, arraigned alongside Abba Adauda, Yakubu Siyaka Adabenege and Iyadai Sadat, on an 18-count charge before Justice Obiora Egwuatu of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Following their not guilty plea, Justice Egwuatu, adjourned till February 13 for hearing in their bail application.
However, delivering ruling in the applications, Justice Egwuatu held that he was inclined to admit the defendants to bail and ruled that the bail was granted in the sum of N500 million each, with two sureties in like sum.
The sureties should be resident in Abuja, with identiable address and own landed property worth N500 million within the jurisdiction of the court.
The judge added that the original title documents to the said property must be deposited with the Registrar of the court, as well as evidence of tax payment for three years running from 2020 to 2022.
Besides the judge held that the defendants are to deposit their international passport with the court and could only travel after due permission from the court.
Subsequently, the matter was adjourned till April 16 for commencement of trial, contrary to an earlier press statement from EFCC, which indicated that trial had begun in the case.
Recall that a senior advocate, Mr Ahmed Raji, SAN, who had argued the bail applications of the four defendants observed that the offences brought against his clients were ordinarily bail-able and as such should be considered and granted.
He also stated that bail was at the discretion of the court and that the court should use its discretion in favour of the defendants.
Raji submitted that the EFCC had been investigating the defendants in the past one year without any interference from the defendants.
The senior lawyer disclosed that the anti-graft agency on its own admitted the defendants to administrative bail prior to their arraignment, adding that throughout the period of the administrative bail, the defendants did not do anything untoward.
Besides, Raji argued that EFCC granted one of the defendants permission to travel to Saudi Arabia, adding that the defendant kept faith by returning to Nigeria and surrendered his traveling passport to the commission.
He dismissed the allegations by EFCC that the defendants were flight risk and would tamper with witnesses if granted bail, adding that apart from being mere allegations, the anti-graft agency did not support the claim with any evidence.
Raji accordingly urged the court to admit the defendants to bail in liberal terms.
Responding, counsel to the EFCC, Mr M. K. Husseini, had vehemently opposed the request, claiming that if admitted to bail the defendants would tamper with evidence as well as interfere with witnesses.
He also argued that the defendants were likely going to jump bail and not make themselves available for trial.
Husseini accordingly urged the court to deny the defendants bail.
In a short ruling, Justice Egwuatu announced that ruling in the bail applications would be delivered on Monday, February 20, 2023.
The defendants were in count one charged with procuring, “E- Traders International Limited to retain the aggregate sum of N3,081,804,654.00 which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful activity to wit: criminal misappropriation, and you thereby committed an offence contrary to sections 18(a), 15(20)(d) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under section 15 (3) of the same Act.
They were also charged with procuring, “E-Traders International Limited to transfer the aggregate sum of $570,330 to account number no; 426-6644272 domiciled in TD Bank, United States of America, which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful activity to with: criminal misappropriation, and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15(2)(d) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under section 15 (3) of the same Act”, in count three.