The trial of former PDP National Chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor, over an alleged N170 million contract fraud at an Abuja High Court was stalled yesterday, following the absence of the judge.
Justice Ishaq Bello, who last presided over the matter on July 11, was said to have travelled to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage. Bello was expected to hear testimony of a principal witness of the prosecution.
However, proceedings in the matter could not hold yesterday, as the judge was said to be out of town. The continuation of the trial is now expected to hold on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
Mr Paul Bassi, a senior legal officer with ICPC and prosecutor, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the new date was given to counsel to Ogbulafor, Mr Joe Gadzama (SAN), by the court clerk.
NAN recalls that ICPC is prosecuting Ogbulafor, Jude Nwokolo, Henry Ikoh and Emeka Emmanuel on a 16-count charge of alleged involvement in a N170 million fraud.
The agency alleged that while serving as the Minister of State for Economic Affairs in 2001, Ogbulafor connived with the others to float three fictitious companies through which they perpetrated the fraud.
They were alleged to have used Henrichiko Nig. Ltd, DHL Consultants and Chekwas Industries to siphon N82.6 million, N11.5 million and N6.2 million, respectively in 2001.
The prosecution also alleged that Ogbulafor used his position as the Head of the National Economic Intelligence Committee, set up to verify debts owed local contractors, to pass some forged documents.
NAN reports that on May 30, six months after the case was adjourned indefinitely, the judge granted permission to ICPC to reopen its case on July 11 and July 12.
The decision followed an application filed by ICPC’ Counsel, Chief Adegboye Awomolo (SAN), asking for the case to be relisted on the court list.
The application for the relisting of the case was after a stay of proceedings in the case, pending the determination of a motion he filed at the Court of Appeal.
ICPC asked for the stay of proceedings because the commission was challenging Bello’s ruling granting Ogbulafor’s application for severance of trial, delivered on Dec. 14, 2010.
Bello had severed the trial because Nwokolo, Ikoh and Emanuel had filed a case at the Court of Appeal, challenging the ruling of the court in which the judge said they had a case to answer in the matter.
Bello said that because the appeal filed by the three accused persons had yet to be heard, the trial had to be severed so that the others could stand trial after their appeal had been determined.