By Ralph Christopher
A Lagos Division of the Federal High Court has dismissed the 40 counts of alleged N34 billion fraud filed by the Federal Government against Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, a company linked to a former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo.
Ekpemupolo was charged along with a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Patrick Akpolokemi, Kime Engozu, Rex Elem, Gregory Mbonu, and Warredi Enisuoh.
Three other firms: Odimiri Electrical Limited; Boloboere Property and Estate Limited; and Destre Consult Limited, were co-defendants in the suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against them in 2015.
The ex-militant leader was initially joined as the first defendant, but his name was struck out from the charge sheet after he ignored an order to appear in court, despite the judge issuing an arrest warrant on him.
In his ruling on Wednesday, Mr Buba upheld the defendants’ no-case submission, saying the prosecution “failed to establish a prima facie case” against them.
He dismissed the entire charges, thereby setting them free.
The EFCC had accused the defendants of conspiring to divert various sums running into over N34bn, belonging to NIMASA to their personal use.
The nti-graft agency whose activity is under probe by. presidential panel, stressed that the accuses acted contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and were therefore liable to punishment under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.
The first of the amended 40 counts read: “That you, Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo), Patrick Akpobolokemi and Global West Vessel Specialist Limited in 2012, in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did conspire amongst yourselves to commit an offence, to wit: conversion of the sum of N601, 516.13 and $1,766,428.62, property of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, knowing that the said sums were proceeds of stealing and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.”
The defendants had, during arraignment for four years, pleaded that they were not guilty to the charges read out against them.