The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 arraigned Phina Chidi, a former Assistant Director, Pension Department, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria, Franklin Nwankwo and Pam Investment Properties before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court on a 15-count charge of obtaining by false pretence and money laundering to the tune of N1,638,960,125.75 ( one billion, six hundred and thirty eighty million, nine hundred and sixty thousand, one hundred and twenty five naira, seventy five kobo) and $2,000,000.00 (two million US dollars).
It will be recalled that, Chidi was initially charged alongside Shuaibu Sani Teidi, former director, Pension Accounts, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria before Justice Adamu Bello. Her re-arrangement followed the ruling of the court to split the charge in order to have each accused person stand separate trial for their alleged involvement in the pension scam.
Count two of the charge reads: “That you, Phina Chidi ( while serving as Assistant Director, Pension Department of Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria), at various times between January 2009 and December 2010, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, obtained for yourself by false pretences and with intent to defraud, through fictitious contracts payments to Cenco Enterprises, various sums of money amounting in aggregate to N74,350,000.00 (Seventy Four Million, Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira only) from the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Pension Account held by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria, and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 1(1)(a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act,2006 and punishable under Section 1(30) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act,2006”.
The accused persons pleaded not guilty to all the charge when it was read to them,
In view of their plea, counsel to EFCC, Godwin Obla, SAN, asked the court for a date to commence trial.
However, counsel to the first accused person, Godwin Uche urged the court to admit his client to bail adding that he had earlier been granted bail in May, 2011 by Justice Adamu Bello.
Speaking in the same vein, N.H Nwankwo and Deji Akande counsel to the second and third accused persons prayed the court for similar relief.
The prosecution raised no objection to their prayers.
Ironically, a surety to the first accused person, Mr Sony Erimi told the court that he wished to withdraw from being her surety saying he no longer want to continue to play the role.
Justice Kolawole, after listening to the submission of all the parties adopted the bail terms formerly granted by Justice Adamu Bello by granting the accused persons bail in the sum of Ten Million Naira each and sureties who must be resident in Abuja.
He also ordered that Mr. Sony Erimi be discharged from the obligation of being a surety and his title documents released to him.
The case has been adjourned to February 4 and 5, 2015 for commencement of trial.
In a related development, the trial of Tahir Abdullahi whose company, Charo Bureau De Change was used to siphon money in the pension office in the office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria commenced with presentation of PW1, Mr. Bright Okunzuwa, Zenith Bank Zonal Compliance Officer, Maitama Branch, Abuja and PW2, Mr Oyedeji Olutobi Ecobank Compliance Officer who were both summoned to present some documents.
Okunzuwa who was led in evidence by counsel to EFCC, Obla, SAN, presented affidavit attesting to the certificate of evidence which was admitted as exhibit 1. He also presented a letter written to Zenith Bank and addressed to Pension Fraud Unit of EFCC for account opening package of Charo Bureau de Change which was admitted as exhibit 1a series and bank statement admitted as exhibit 1b series.
During cross examination by counsel to the defendant, Nicholas O. Eku, the witness told the court that the content of the statement of the account is not known to him, and that he was aware of the threshold to report suspicious transaction. He further told the court that, he had no idea on how the account was run.
Olutobi, on his part, presented to the court an affidavit attesting to the certificate of evidence which was admitted as exhibit 1c, account opening package of Mr. Tahir Abdullahi as exhibit 1d, statement of the account from January 2007 to December 31, 2011 as exhibit 1e series.
Olutobi also told the court that he was not aware of any documents that was given to EFCC on suspicious transaction; that he was not also conversant with the contents of the statement of the account.
The case has been fixed for January 29, 2015 for continuation of trial.
The accused was arraigned by EFCC on January 8, 2014 on a one count charge bordering on obtaining by false pretence.
The count reads: “that you Garba Abdullahi Tahir at various times between 3rdJune 2009 and 17th May 2010 within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, obtained by false pretence and with intent to defraud from the Pensions Account, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation of Nigeria, various sums in the aggregate amount of N47,251, 345.00 (Forty Seven Million, Two Hundred and Fifty One Thousand, Three Hundred and Fifty Four Naira) and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 1(1)(a) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2006.”