Paul Usoro, SAN

The trial of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro, SAN, on charges of allegedly laundering N1.4 billion has been re-assigned to Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court Lagos.

The Chief Judge of the Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, re-assigned the case from the courtroom of Justice Muslim Hassan on Monday after he granted the request of the NBA President for a change of judge.

At the last sitting of the court in December 2018, a former president of the NBA and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Wole Olanipekun, who led Mr Usoro’s defence team had drawn the court’s attention to a letter written by his client to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, seeking the transfer of the case to another judge in Lagos or to any judicial division between Uyo and Abuja.

He urged the court to await the decision of the Chief Judge on the issue before proceeding with the arraignment.

But counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, opposed to the move.

He urged the court to go ahead with arraignment which was the issue of the day.

Mr Oyedepo stated that there was no basis for a transfer of the case and urged the court not to allow an administrative duty of the Chief Judge stall the criminal proceedings, especially as there was no response yet from the Chief Judge.

In a ruling on the issue, Justice Muslim Hassan held that going ahead with the arraignment would not preclude the Chief Judge from taking a decision on the letter.

He, thereafter, directed that the charge be read to the defendant.

The NBA President had pleaded not guilty to the 10 counts of alleged conversion of N1.4 billion belonging to the Akwa Ibom State government

After this, his lawyer moved his bail application.

In the absence of any opposition from the EFCC, the judge admitted Mr Usoro to bail in the sum of N250million with one surety in like sum.

The judge also ordered the NBA President to deposit his international passport with the court.

Further proceedings were fixed for February 5.

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