Gbenga Makanjuola, the deputy chief of staff to Senate President Bukola Saraki, and one Obiorah Amobi were Wednesday remanded in prison by a federal judge over fraud charges totalling N3.5 billion.
Messrs Makanjuola and Amobi were arraigned alongside Melrose General Services Limited on an 11-count charge bordering on fraud by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission before Babs Kuewumi, a judge of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
Also joined as a defendant in the suit is Kolawole Shittu, a cashier in the senate president’s office.
Ekene Iheanacho, the EFCC prosecutor, said the defendants and one Robert Mbonu (now at large) had sometime in December 2016 conspired among themselves to disguise the origin of N3.5 billion which was paid into Melrose General Services Limited account with Access Bank Plc.
The Commission said the third accused, Mr Amobi, who is the operation manager of Melrose General Services between December 15 and 17, 2016, made a cash payment of N300 million to Mr Mbonu from the said N3.5 billion, without going through a financial institution.
They also accused Messrs Makanjuola and Shittu of making cash payments, in December 2016, totaling $1.5 million of $500, 000 in three tranches, between themselves without going through a financial institution.
The offences, according to the prosecutor, are contrary to 18, 15(2)(d), 15(2)(b) 1(a) and 16(2)(b) of Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, and punishable under Sections 15(3) and 16 (2)(b) of the same act.
They pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Following their arraignment, Mr Iheanacho asked that the defendants be remanded in prison while also seeking for a trial date.
Responding, Mr Makanjuola’s lawyer, Paul Erokoro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, drew the court’s attention to his client’s bail application.
He said the application has been served on the prosecution and sought the court’s permission to move it.
A similar request was also made by Mr Amobi’s lawyer, Omeoga Chukwu.
The court granted the two lawyers the permission to move their bail applications.
In his argument, Mr Erokoro said his client was a former member of the House of Representatives and as such he is prepared to face his trial.
“My client is a full-time staff at the Senate and is not a flight risk. He was a member of the House of Representatives. I urge the court to grant him bail to prepare for his trial”, he said.
Mr Chukwu also pleaded with the court to admit his client to bail on liberal terms.
However, in his response, EFCC’s lawyer, Mr Iheanacho, urged the court to dismiss the applications saying the defendants constitute a flight risk.
“One of the defendants has absconded. The chances that the other defendants will abscond are now higher with their arraignment. We urge the court to refuse the defence’s requests”, he said.
After listening to the submissions of parties in the matter, the judge adjourned till October 9 for ruling on the bail applications.
Some of the counts against the defendants are::
“That you, Robert Chidozie Mbonu (now at large), Melrose General Services Limited, Gbenga Makanjuola and other persons at large sometimes in December 2016 in Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired amongst yourselves to disguise the unlawful origin of the sum of N3.5 billion paid into the account of Melrose General Services Limited and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended by the Act No. 2012)and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.
“That you, Robert Chidozie Mbonu (now at large) and Melrose General Services Limited, between the 14th day of December, 2016 and January, 2017 in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court took control of N3.5 billion transferred from the Nigeria Governors Forum’s Account into Access Bank Plc Account Number, 0005892453 operated by Melrose General Services Limited when you reasonably ought to have known that the said fund represented the proceeds of unlawful activities to wit: conspiracy, stealing and fraud, and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended by the Act No. 1, 2012) and punishable under Section 15 (3)of the same Act”.