Justice Ibrahim Buba of a Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday rejected the plea to set aside the bench warrant issued on January 14 against a former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo.
The judge, in a bench ruling, said the warrant of arrest issued against Tompolo still stood and ordered all the law enforcement agencies in the country to ensure that Tompolo was produced before him on February 19.
Tompolo is wanted by the court over an alleged N34bn fraud, which he allegedly perpetrated in conjunction with nine others.
He is to be arraigned along with his alleged accomplices on 40 counts filed against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
His alleged accomplices include the immediate-past Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi.
Tompolo’s accomplice the immediate-past Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi in court this morning. Video: Saheed Olugbon/PUNCH
Others are Kime Engozu, Rex Elem, Gregory Mbonu and Capt. Warredi Enisuoh.
The suspects were charged along with four companies, namely: Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, Odimiri Electrical Limited, Boloboere Property and Estate Limited and Destre Consult Limited.
The suspects were accused of diverting and converting to their personal use a sum of N34bn belonging to NIMASA.
The offence, according to EFCC, is contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and were liable to punishment under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.
The suspects were supposed to have been arraigned on January 14, but Tompolo had shunned a court’s summons dated January 12 to appear, leading the judge to issuing a bench warrant against him.
The judge had ordered that Tompolo should be produced before him on Monday.
But rather than come to court, Tompolo, through his lawyer, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), brought an application urging the judge to set aside the arrest warrant issued against him.
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While arguing the application, Oyetibo claimed that his client had not been properly served with the charge sheet and the summons.
He claimed that though the court granted the EFCC an order for substituted service, the anti-graft agency only pasted the charge sheet and summons at a wrong address.
He urged the court to rule that his client had not been served and that the bench warrant ought not to have been issued.
Oyetibo also argued that the Federal Government did not obtain the leave of the court to change its designation on the charge sheet from plaintiff to complainant.
But Justice Buba dismissed the application, noting that Oyetibo was in court because he was briefed by Tompolo, and such Tompolo could not claim that he was not aware of the charge pending against him.
The judge described as frivolous the argument that the Federal Government did not first seek the leave of the court before amending its status from plaintiff to complainant in the charge and urged counsel not to waste the time of the court on mere technicalities.
He held, “The entire gamut of this application is for the court to set aside the order granting substituted service of the charge.
“The first defendant missed the point completely. The law is that anybody like the EFCC has the power to arrest anyone if it has reasonable belief that such person has committed an offence.
“On January 12 when the application for substituted service was moved, one of the averments was that the applicant was invited by the EFCC to answer to some allegations, but up till today he has not deemed it fit to honour the invitation.
“It is very clear that the order for substituted service is more than justified against a man who has refused to honour lawful invitation by the EFCC.
“Not only is the accused aware of the charge but has further briefed counsel representing him, who on his behalf, demanded for all processes filed.
“Therefore, all the authorities cited on this issue are, with respect, misconceived. Whether served by substituted means or not, the accused is aware of the charge.
“The application challenging service is misconceived same be and is hereby dismissed.
“The order for arrest still subsists. All authorities in Nigeria are hereby further ordered to ensure that the order of this court for the arrest of Ekpemupolo a.k.a Tompolo is carried out to the letter.”
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