Alleged N6.5bn fraud: FG withdraws charge against Sylva

By The Citizen

The Federal Government, yesterday, asked Justice Evoh Chukwu of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to terminate further hearing on the six-count criminal charge that was preferred against the former governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Timipre Sylva, by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

The directive came on a day the court had fixed for the anti-graft agency to call witnesses and tender exhibits against the ex-governor who was accused of masterminding the illegal diversion of funds from the Bayelsa State treasury, while he was in power.

He was specifically accused of siphoning over N6.5 billion from the Bayelsa State treasury between October 2009 and February 2010.

When the case was called up yesterday, counsel to government, Chief O. J. Nnadi (SAN), told the court that he got an instruction from an Assistant Director of Legal & Prosecution at EFCC, Mr. J. A. Ajogbane, to withdraw the charge.

He further tendered a 'fiat' for the discontinuance of the criminal charge, which he said was issued to him by the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mr. M. S. Diri, on behalf of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF.

'My Lord, I am disappointed that after opposing initial bid to quash this charge, ýthis morning, I was directed to withdraw the charge,' Nnadi submitted.

Disagreement over directive
Responding, the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Ojogbane denied ever directing the prosecutor, Nnadi, to discontinue the matter, saying he was surprised by the submission.

He said: 'My Lord, the instruction ýI got from my own Director, Mr. Chile Okoroma, was to appear in court today with the DPP, who I was told will come this morning to withdraw this charge.

'When I came to court this morning and did not see ýthe DPP, I approached the learned silk and he confirmed to me that he was briefed by the office of the AGF. It, is therefore, not correct for him to say that EFCC asked him to withdraw this charge.

'EFCC did not ask me to come and withdraw the charge.'

However, Ojogbane told the court that the DPP spoke with him on phone before the proceeding commenced.

EFCC lawyer said: 'My Lord, I can confirm that I am aware that this charge is to be withdrawn this morning by the office of the DPP, the reason being that there are two similar charges against the accused person before the Federal High Court.

'Government, through the DPP, has therefore decided to terminate this charge to focus on the one before the other court.'

Sylva seeks acquittal, return of passport
Meanwhile, though Sylva through his lawyer, Mr. Israel Olorundare (SAN), did not oppose the withdrawal application, he urged the court to dismiss the charge and discharge the accused person.

He equally prayed the court to issue an order restraining EFCC from arresting his client again in respect of allegations contained in the six-court charge.

Sylvaý also begged the court to order the release of his international passport and other travelling documents he surrendered as part of the conditions upon which he was earlier granted bail.

In his short ruling after the matter was stood down for about 10 minutes, Justice Chukwu said after reviewing arguments by all the parties, he had no option than to terminate further hearing on the matter.

He stressed that Section 174(b) (c) of the 1999 Constitution imbues the AGF with both the power to issue fiat for the prosecution of criminal cases and to delegate someone, including DPP, to withdraw charges pending in court.

Justice Chukwu held: 'In the circumstance, this application is granted as prayed, the charge is accordingly struck out and the accused is discharged properly. The international passport of the accused person is to be released to him promptly.'

Meanwhile, the person that signed the said withdrawal notice, which was dated yesterday, was not known, considering that the office of the AGF is currently vacant.Vanguard