The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Tuesday separated a former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, from 40 counts of alleged N45.9bn fraud it filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Tompolo was listed as the first accused person in the charge, which the EFCC filed in January before Justice Ibrahim Buba.
Listed as his co-accused persons in the charge were a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi, Kime Engozu, Rex Elem, Gregory Mbonu and Capt. Warredi Enisuoh.
The five were charged alongside four companies – Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, Odimiri Electrical Limited, Boloboere Property, Estate Limited and Destre Consult Limited.
But efforts to arraign them had failed since January following Tompolo’s refusal to honour the court summons issued to him to appear in court.
At the Tuesday proceedings, neither Tompolo nor his lawyers, Messrs Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, appeared in court.
The EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Festus Keyamo, told the judge that the charge had been amended with Tompolo’s name removed.
He said Tompolo, who is wanted by the anti-graft agency, would now be arraigned and tried separately from the others.
Keyamo said he had served the amended charge sheet on the other nine accused persons and urged the court to take their pleas.
The 40 counts levelled against them by the EFCC border on conspiracy, theft and fraudulent conversion of money belonging to NIMASA to their private pockets.
The EFCC said the accused persons acted 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.
But upon reading the charges to them on Tuesday, the nine accused persons pleaded not guilty to the entire 40 counts.
Justice Buba later admitted them to bail in the sum of N50m.
He adjourned till May 23 for their trial to commence.
Meanwhile, the judge also adjourned till April 18 for the EFCC to arraign Akpobolokemi and others on another 22 counts. Tompolo had also been listed as the 1st defendant in the charge, but his name was removed following his failure to show up to answer the charges.
The EFCC said he would also be arranged separately on the 22 counts whenever he was produced before the court.
Justice Buba had since January 14 issued a warrant for his arrest. The said warrant was renewed on February 8.
He is also praying the appellate court to order the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, to reassign his case from Justice Buba to another judge, adding that he was afraid he might not get justice before Justice Buba.