By Adebisi Onanuga
A Presidential aide is standing surety for one of the oil marketers on trial for alleged fuel subsidy fraud before a Lagos High Court in Ikeja.
Mrs. Mariam Ali, Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Inter-governmental Relations, is standing surety for Mr. Christian Taylor, who claims to be a Sierra Leonean.
Mrs. Ali is the wife of former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman Dr. Ahmadu Ali.
Ali’s son, Mamman, is also among the suspects on trial for alleged N3billion subsidy scam.
Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo on July 26 granted bail to Taylor and other co-defendants, including Mamman, in the sum of N20million each and two sureties in like sum. One of the sureties, the court said, must be his blood relation with landed property within the jurisdiction of the court.
But Taylor, through his counsel, Mr. Toyin Pinheiro (SAN), on July 30, applied for a variation of the bail conditions.
Taylor, along with Mamman Ali and Nasaman Oil Services, is facing a three-count charge bordering on conspiracy and obtaining by false pretence.
They were alleged to have fraudulently obtained N4,461,136,798.94 from the Federal Government, purporting it to be payment under Petroleum Support Fund as subsidy for the purported importation of Premium Motor Spirit(PMS) from Europe to Nigeria.
At the resumed sitting yesterday, counsel to Taylor, Mr. Kolade Obafemi, urged the court to accept “a reputable and responsible Nigerian in place of a blood relation” as surety.
Obafemi argued that Mrs. Ali is ready to stand surety for Taylor and will use her landed property in Surulere, Lagos, as part of the bail bond.
Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), for the prosecution, queried the existence of Mrs. Ali, pointing out that she had not made any deposition before the court.
Obafemi described Mrs. Ali as a public servant and a responsible Nigerian.
“Mrs. Ali is a reputable public servant and Special Adviser to the President on Inter-governmental Relations,” he said.
The prosecution opposed the application for the variation of the bail condition on the grounds that Taylor was trying to misrepresent facts by initially claiming in his statement that he hailed from Okpe Local Government Area of Edo State and later that he was a Sierra-Leonean, when he was asked to bring a surety.
But his counsel assured the court that he would not jump bail.
Justice Onigbanjo said the essence of bail was to allow the defendant unfettered access to his lawyers.
He then varied the bail conditions and substituted “family member” with “a reputable and responsible Nigerian, with landed property”.
Justice Onigbanjo refused to grant the bail application of Mr. Oluwaseun Ogunbambo, one of the suspects.
While the court refused bail for Ogunbambo, it set tough conditions for his accomplice, Habila Theck.
Justice Onigbanjo ordered that Ogunbambo, who is standing trial alongside Habila Theck and Fargo Energy Limited, be remanded in Ikoyi Prison, pending the commencement of his trial.
Ogunbambo, Theck and Fargo Energy Limited were arraigned on a six-count charge bordering on conspiracy, obtaining by false pretence, forgery and use of false document to obtain N976, 653, 110, 98k from the Federal Government under the Petroleum Support Fund.
Initial efforts to secure their bail suffered a setback on Monday as prosecution counsel Rotimi Jacobs sought more time to respond to the application.
At the resumed sitting yesterday, Ogunbambo’s counsel, Babajide Koku (SAN), urged the court to grant bail to the defendant on liberal terms. He assured the court that he would not jump bail or interfere with the trial.
Jacobs opposed the bail application on three grounds.
He said the first defendant is under investigation by the EFCC following an allegation made against him by Stanbic IBTC Bank.
According to Jacobs, Ogunbambo allegedly collected N230million and N430million loans with forged documents and jumped bail since 2010.
He claimed that the defendant was arrested at Dublin Airport with cash, which he refused to declare to the authorities. According to Jacobs, the Ireland Embassy petitioned the EFCC over the matter and Ogunbambo’s two passports were seized by the anti-graft agency.
In spite of the seizure of Ogunbambo’s travelling documents, Jacob said it was surprising that he still travelled outside.
Jacobs said the most serious of his opposition to bail for Ogunbambo was what he called his many identities.
According to the prosecution lawyer, “Ogunbambo changes name as he likes, like he changes clothes.”
He said: “This is a clear case from the past rulings by the court. The facts are unique. We have shown that the evidence against the accused are quite heavy and the charge, a serious one.
“He used different names. If he is in the United Kingdom (UK), he is Benson Adekunbo Oladapo Sobowale, but in this case he claimed to be Oluwaseun Ogunbambo.”
Although Ogunbambo’s counsel told the court that his client never had a criminal case, the prosecution said the defendant had all along been jumping bail in all the allegations against him, making it difficult to arraign him.
“He jumped bail. We can’t find him and a defendant can’t be tried in absentia,” Jacobs told the court.
The prosecution, however, raised no objection to the bail application of the second defendant, Theck, who Jacobs said had lived up to the undertaking given by his counsel to the EFCC.
The court ordered that Ogunbambo be remanded at Ikoyi Prisons until the next adjourned date and granted bail to Theck.
Further hearing was adjourned till September 21 and 28.
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