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EFCC ARRAIGNS BANKOLE ON 16-COUNT

By NBF News
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Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, was yesterday returned to the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the orders of a Federal High Court, Abuja. He will remain there till tomorrow when his bail application would be taken.

Bankole, who appeared before Justice Donatus Okorowa looked unruffled in his traditional white attire as he pleaded not guilty to the 16-count charge slammed against him by the EFCC. His arraignment on charges of contract inflation and fraudulent embezzlement of public fund, followed his arrest by the anti-graft agency last Sunday. He was brought to court at about 8.30 am in a Toyota Coaster bus marked BR 739 BWR, under tight security by EFCC operatives of the antigraft agency. Over 30 armed mobile policemen were deployed in and outside the court premises throughout the trial. Inside the crowded court room, Bankole was ushered into the dock by the prosecution counsel, Festus Keyamo as the count charges were read out to him.

During the arraignment, his lawyer Chief Adegboyega Awomolo [SAN], drew the court's attention to what he described as media trial by EFCC. According to him, the commission had deliberately been embarrassing his client. He told the court that the media and photographers were arranged to cover the arrest.

Responding, EFCC's lawyer, Keyamo said the commission was not using the media to witchhunt Bankole, arguing that he did not have control over the media and that both parties had equal access to the media.

Notwithstanding, Justice Okorowa cautioned the prosecution against persecuting the accused even as he reminded journalists that the court had powers to punish for contempt.

However, when Awomolo made an oral application for the bail of his client, the judge refused the request and insisted on formal one.

It was Keyamo who first opposed the oral application for the release of Bankole on bail.

He told the court that the defence had to properly file a bail application, which had to be properly argued before the court. He prayed the court to remand the accused in EFCC custody as investigation into the allegation of fraud against him was on going. He also told the court that the unco-operative `attitude of Bankole during the first 24 hours of his arrest delayed his appearance in court.

The court consequently ordered that Bankole be remanded in EFCC's custody till 12 noon on Friday when his bail application would be heard. Justice Okorowa adjourned the case to July 26 and 27 for trial. Speaking after the arraignment, one of Bankole's lawyers, Ajibola Fashanu [SAN], said his team was ready to defend Bankole on whatever charges filed against him.

Bankole was arraigned before the court on a 16 -count charge of contract inflation amounting to N894 million  by the EFCC. The charge sheet which specifically bordered on abuse of the public Procurement Act was filed on Tuesday by Keyamo to confirm Daily Sun report on the subject matter. The charges were built around allegations of contract inflation for the purchase of sundry items including, but not limited to electronic gadgets, vehicles and other accessories.

According to the Proof of Evidence attached to the charge sheet, the EFCC is expected to call four witnesses to prove the allegation of fraud against the former Speaker. Besides, the commission will further rely on contract documents for the purchase of all items contained in the charge, minutes of meeting of May 28, 2008 of Body of Principal Officers, Statement of witnesses and those of the accused persons.

Some of the charges read: 'That you, Dimeji Bankole and others now at large on or about May 28, 2011 within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, being Body of Principal Officers of the House of Representatives responsible for the approval of contracts in the House of Representatives, with intent to defraud, did conspire amongst yourselves to inflate the cost of 400 units of 40-inch Samsung (LNS.3410 television sets by approval the purchase of the said item at the rate of N525, 000.00 per unit, instead of the prevailing market price of N295, 000.00 and thereby committed an offense contrary to Section 58 (4) (a) of the Public Procurement Act No. 14 of 2007 and punishable under Section 58 (5) of the same Act.

'That you, Dimeji Bankole and others now at large, on or about May 28, 2008 within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court  being Body of Principal Officers of the House of Representatives responsible for the approval of contracts in the House of Representatives , with intent to defraud, rigged the bid for the purchase of 100 units of Sharp  Digital Copier 5316 by refusal to follow all the procedures prescribed for public procurements in Sections 17 to 56 of the Public Procurement Act N0.14 of 2007, leading to a loss of value to the national treasury and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 58 (4) (e) of the Public Procurement Act, No.14 of 2007 and punishable under Section 58 (5) of the same Act.'

'That you, Dimeji Bankole and others now at large, on or about the 28th of May, 2008 within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court  being body of Principal officers of the House of Representatives responsible for the approval of contracts in the House of Representatives , with intent to defraud, rigged the bid for the purchase of 3 units of Mercedes Benz S-600 cars by refusal to follow all the procedures prescribed for public procurements in Sections 17 to 56 of the Public Procurement Act No.14 of 2007, leading to a loss of value to the national treasury and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 58 (4) (e) of the Public Procurement Act, No.14 of 2007 and punishable under Section 58 (5) of the same Act.'