Former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market, Herman Hembe and his deputy, Chris Azubogu who are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for a $4,095 estacode scam, have a case to answer. An FCT High Court, Abuja presided over by Justice Peter Kekemeke on Wednesday ruled that a prima facie case has been established against the lawmakers by the anti-graft agency.
The duo allegedly converted the sum of $4,095 given to them as estacode to attend a conference in Dominican Republic to personal use and failed to attend the conference, thereby committing an offence contrary to section 308 of the Penal Code Act Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1990.
Counsel to the accused persons J.S Okutepa and Onyenchi Ikpeazu, in separate arguments at the last adjourned date contended that estacode is money meant for a public servant who travels overseas. They argued that once the money is approved and the officer embarks on the journey, the money becomes his. They therefore wondered how a man can misappropriate what belongs to him, and prayed the court to dismiss the charge preferred against their client as lacking in merit.
However, prosecuting counsel, Chile Okoroma urged the court to discountenance the arguments of the defence counsel. According to him, the fundamental issue for determination is whether or not the prosecution has established a prima facie case against the defendants to warrant some form of explanation from them. He stated that from the evidence before the court, it had been established that the accused persons have a case to answer.
In his ruling, Justice Kekemeke upheld the argument of the prosecution that a prima facie case had been established against the defendants and adjourned proceedings to October 21, 2013.
You will recall that last year the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arumah Oteh fought back over accusations of reckless expenditure of public funds by members of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market alleging that the federal lawmakers were out to smear her reputation because she refused to give a N39 million bribe they demanded from her.
She pointedly accused Mr Hembe of demanding bribe from SEC, saying that the committee had demanded the N39 million from SEC to fund the hearing.
Ms Oteh alleged that in October 2011, Mr Hembe had collected money and a first class ticket from SEC on the excuse of travelling to the Dominican Republic to attend a conference on capital market.
She accused Mr Hembe of neither making the trip nor returning the money.