The former governor of Imo state, Rochas Okorocha, has pleaded not guilty to the 17-count money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him and six others.
Okorocha, who mounted the dock around 9:35am, took his plea alongside a chieftain of the All Progressive, APC, Anyim Nyerere Chinenye, and five companies- Naphtali International Limited, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Limited, Consolid Projects Consulting Limited, Pramif International Limited, and Legend World Concepts Limited.
When the charge was read to him before trial Justice Inyang Ekwo, the former governor, said: “I understand the charge against me, but I am not guilty my lord”.
All the other defendants also pleaded their innocence to the charge dated January 24.
Okorocha, who piloted affairs of Imo state from 2011 to 2019, was accused of diverting funds belonging to Imo state, to the tune of about N2.9billion.
The charge against him bordered on conspiracy and stealing.
EFCC alleged that the defendants sequentially siphoned funds from the Imo State Government House account and Imo State Joint Local Government Project account, and diverted same into accounts of private firms.
According to the anti-graft agency, the defendants committed the alleged offence between October 2014 and February 2016.
Okorocha, who is currently the Senator representing Imo West, had initially declared his intention to contest for presidency in the 2023 general elections.
He was however arrested by operatives of the agency, few hours before his political party, the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, screened its presidential candidates.
The arrest followed alleged refusal by the former governor to make himself available for trial.
EFCC accused him of deliberately evading service of the charge on him.
Meanwhile, following plea of the defendants on Monday, Okorocha’s lawyer, Mr. Okey Amaechi, SAN, prayed the court to release him on bail pending the determination of the case against him.
Amaechi, further drew attention of the court to the fact that his client was roughly arrested before APC’s screening.
“My lord, without a warrant of arrest from this court, they went into the house of the defendant, broke into it and arrested him in a gestapo manner”, he added.
However, EFCC, through its lawyer, Mr. Gbolahan latona, told the court that Okorocha raised some issues in his bail application that would require its response.
While adjourning the matter till Tuesday to hear bail applications of the defendants, Justice Ekwo ordered that they should remain in EFCC custody, pending the determination of their bail request.
The court equally fixed November 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 for trial