Trial of top FIRS officials, ex-directors stalled over absence of a defendant

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By Taiye Agbaje

The trial of some top officials of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and two former directors before Justice Bolaji Olajuwon of a Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja was, on Tuesday stalled.

The defendants; Mr Peter Hena, former Coordinating Director; Mohammed Bello Auta, ex-Finance Director, and seven other staff of the FIRS are charged with 42 counts bordering on corruption, fraud and criminal misappropriation of funds running into millions of naira.

The offence, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is punishable under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended in 2012).

The other defendants are Aminu Sidi, Umar Aliyu Aduku, Mbura Mustapha, Obi Okeke Malachy, Obaje Napoleon Adofu, Udo-Inyang Effiong Alfred and Benjamin Jiya as 3rd to 9th defendants respectively.

The EFCC had, on March 11, arraigned the defendants before Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu and granted bail in the sum of N100 million with a surety in the like sum.

But they were re-arraigned before Justice Bolaji Olajuwon, on June 23, following the recent transfer of Ojukwu to the Calabar division of the court.

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They had pleaded not guilty to all the counts and prayed the court to allow them to continue to enjoy the earlier bail as granted by Ojukwu since none of the defendants had breached any of the bail terms.

The new trial judge, then, admitted them to the bail terms as earlier granted.

She adjourned the matter until Sept. 28 for trial to begin.

However, when the matter was called on Tuesday, the 9th defendant (Benjamin Jiya) was conspicuously absent in court.

Justice Olajuwon asked his lawyer, N.A. Ikoro, his whereabouts.

Ikoro told the court that his client contracted COVID-19 and had been in the isolation centre.
The judge adjourned the matter until Dec. 1 for trial to begin.