The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday rearraigned Gbenga Makanjuola, a Deputy Chief of Staff to Senate President Bukola Saraki before Justice Maureen Onyetenu of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on an amended 11-count charge bordering on alleged conspiracy, accepting cash payment beyond threshold and money laundering to the tune of N3.5billion.
Makanjuola is charged alongside Kolawole Shittu, cashier to the Senate; Robert Chidozie Mbonu, a former Managing Director, Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, who is at large; Melrose General Services Limited; and Obiora Amobi, Operation Manager, Melrose General Services Limited.
At the resumption of hearing, EFCC counsel Bashir Kamil informed the court that Wednesday was slated for the rearraignment of the defendants due to the transfer of Justice Babs Kuewumi, who was handling the case earlier.
Justice Kuewumi was among the judges transferred out of Lagos early this year.
Justice Onyetenu ordered that the charge be read to defendants for their plea to be taken.
One of the counts read: “That you, Gbenga Makanjuola, sometime in December 2016 in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did accept cash payment of the sum of $500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Dollars Only) from Kolawole Shittu without going through a financial institution and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 (as amended by Act No. 1 of 2012) and punishable under Section 16 (2) (b) of the same Act.”
Another count read: “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 the sum of N3,500,000,000.00 (Three Billion, Five Hundred Million Naira Only) transferred from the Nigerian Governors’ Forum’s account into Access Bank Plc account number 0005892453 by Melrose General Services Limited, when you reasonably ought to have known that the said fund represented the proceeds of lawful activities to wit-conspiracy, stealing and fraud, and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15(2) (9) 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.”
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them.
In view of their pleas, Bashir Kamil, the prosecution counsel, asked the court for a trial date.
However, Okwudili Anozie, counsel to the second and fourth defendants, holding the brief of Paul Erokoro (SAN), applied that the court should allow defendants continue on the bail earlier granted by Justice Babs Kuewumi who was transferred out of Lagos earlier this year.
Also, Omeoga Chukwu, counsel to the third defendant, urged the court to allow his client continue on the existing bail.
Consequently, Justice Maureen Onyetenu granted the defendant application to continue on the existing bail earlier granted and adjourned till May 20, 21 and 22 for trial.
The EFCC had submitted a report to President Muhammadu Buhari linking the Senate President and some of his aides to the diversion of the sum of N19billion from the N522.74billion Paris Club refund.
In December 2016, the Nigerian government approved the sum of N522.74billion to be paid to the 36 states of the federation as part of the reimbursement of the over-deduction on the Paris Club loan from 1995 to 2002.
However, the EFCC discovered that the loan refunds were illegally diverted through the account of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Investigation revealed that following the receipt of the fund, the NGF, in alleged connivance with Saraki, remitted huge sums of money to private consultants who eventually laundered about N19billion.
Investigation further revealed that a sum of N3.5billion was allegedly lodged into Melrose General Services’ company account number 0005892453 domiciled in Access Bank from the NGF.