THE President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN) has said that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has no right to interfere in the activities of the association, saying that the charges preferred against him were political.
Speaking with newsmen at the weekend on the outcome of the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the NBA in Abuja, Usoro said the leakages and the hype on the matter shortly before the NBA NEC meeting was to instigate NEC to remove him as the President of the NBA.
“NEC didn’t do that and I presented my address and program designed to support the rule of Law in the country,” he said and added that he is not in support of the anti-graft agency getting involved in the affairs of the NBA.
The NBA president who said he will not lose sleep over the matter also added that he will be in court today, even though he was yet to be served with the charges against him.
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He, however, decried the practice of media trial by the EFCC and noted that he will support a legislation that will criminalise media trial in the country.
Usoro said in the speech he delivered at the NEC meeting of the NBA that the rule of law will be threatened when lawyers’ independence and courage in advocacy are fettered howsoever, whether by the EFCC or any other person or organization, consequent upon the lawyers’ choice of clients.
Recalled that the EFCC had charged the NBA President with an alleged fraud of N1.4 billion.
Usoro was charged before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The charge sheet, marked FHC/418c/18, was filed before Justice Muslim Hassan.
EFCC claimed in the charge sheet that Usoro converted and laundered the money in connivance with the governor of his state, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State.
Emmanuel was however not listed as a defendant in the charge, as the EFCC indicated that he is “currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution.”
Also mentioned in the body of the charges were one Nsikan Nkan, described as Commissioner for Finance, Akwa Ibom State; one Mfon Udomah, described as the Accountant General of Akwa Ibom State; one Uwemedimo Nwoko, described as the Akwa Ibom State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; and Margaret Ukpe, all of whom were said to be at large.
The EFCC claimed that Usoro in connivance with the others mentioned conspired among themselves to commit the offence sometime in 2015.
The anti-graft agency claimed that the N1.4bn allegedly converted and laundered by the defendants belonged to the Akwa Ibom State Government.
The anti-graft agency said that the offence allegedly committed by the NBA President was contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and he is liable to be punished under Section 15(3) of the same Act.
EFCC, while reacting to the speech delivered by Usoro at the association’s NEC, which held on December 6, 2018 in Abuja said, Usoro was invited in June this year, to explain his role regarding the inflow of N300 million from the Akwa Ibom State Government’s Account into the account of Paul Usoro Chambers, (PUC).
The acting spokesman of the anti-graft agency, Tony Orilade said in a statement last week that Usoro was also questioned on the aggregate inflow of N1, 110,000,000 from the state government’s account into the bank account of PUC.
Under interrogation, Usoro had claimed that the various sums of money received from the Akwa Ibom State Government, under the administration of Gov. Udom Emmanuel, were payments for “legal fees” to him and other “eminent members of the Inner Bar and a host of other members of the Outer Bar that I had engaged to work with me in respect of the Election Petition matter” involving the governor.
Usoro is further quoted to have stated that the payments were “independent transactions and that the Akwa Ibom State Government’s payments-on-account were in respect of my Firm’s professional services to the State, while the payments to the senior counsel were made by me for and on behalf of Gov Udom Emmanuel, at his request.”
The learned silk raised the issue of “client-lawyer privilege,” arguing that “judicially and historically”, the “issues of fees, as between a lawyer and his client, is a matter of privilege.”
Orilade said the EFCC has regard for the Rule of Law and stated that what is at stake, is the legitimacy of the source of the money used for the various payments.
Orilade said from all intent and purposes, payment of over N1.4 Billion to Usoro from the accounts of Akwa Ibom State Government for the unofficial transaction, is nothing short of criminal diversion of public funds.
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