COURTROOM NEWS 09/06/2022
N3bn Tramadol: Lawyer’s Petition Stalls Arraignment Of Suspected Billionaire Drug Baron, Ukatu, Two Others
The scheduled arraignment of suspected billionaire drug baron, Chief Afam Ukatu named in a N3 billion tramadol deal suffered a setback yesterday before a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Ukatu was to be arraigned alongside Pius Enidom and Sunday Ifeanyi Ibekwute by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) before Justice Nicholas Oweibo.
They were to be arraigned on a five-count charge bordering on conspiracy and unlawful importation of narcotic drugs without lawful authority.
However, the defendants could not be arraigned following a petition written by Ukatu’s lead counsel, Mr. Victor Opara, SAN to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court requesting for transfer of the suit to another judge.
When the matter came up, the prosecutor, Mr. Jerry Aernan, informed the court that the defendants were not produced in court because of a petition written to the Chief Judge for the transfer of the case.
He said: “Essentially this matter was adjourned till today for arraignment of the defendants today but they were not produce in court because I came across a petition written to the chief Judge for the transfer of this case.
“I want to state that I disassociate myself from such petition. The chief judge has acted on the petition and transfer this matter to Justice Peter Lifu.”
Addressing the court, one of the defendants’ lawyers, Benson Ndakara, expressed surprise about the development.
Ndakara who said he was shocked by the petition added that there were two matters involving the defendants which were before the court namely: the Fundamental Rights Enforcement suit filed by the defendants and the Criminal charge filed against the defendants by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
“I am very surprised that a senior lawyer like Victor Opara can write a petition on a matter that he never featured in. I am not aware of such letter, therefore I have written a letter dated 8th of June distancing myself from this embarrassing action of the writer of that petition seeking the transfer of the case out of this court”, Ndakara stated.
Justice Owoibo in his reaction stated that he has received a letter from the Chief Judge transfering the suit to another court.
Justice Oweibo held that, “The Chief Judge normally send such latter to us for our response, which is not the case here but surprisingly I just saw letter of transfer of the case from my Court.”
Ukatu, who is the Chairman of Mallinson Group of Companies was arrested after months of surveillance and evading arrest by anti-narcotic operatives on board a flight to Abuja at the MM2 terminal of the Lagos airport, Ikeja on Wednesday, April 13.
According to NDLEA, investigations revealed that the suspect had been a major importer of large consignments of different brands and high dosages of tramadol hydrochloride, ranging from 120mg, 200mg, 225mg and 250mg, all of which are illicit.
He was said to own pharmaceutical and plastic manufacturing companies, which he used as a cover to import illicit drugs into Nigeria as well as operating 103 bank accounts, most of which were allegedly used to launder money.
Ukatu came under watch after five cartons of tramadol 225mg were seized from his staff on May 4, 2021, when he sent them to sell to undercover police officers (unknown to Ukatu) from the then Kyari-led IRT of the Nigeria Police, Ikeja Lagos.
The monetary value of the 202 cartons of tramadol seized from Mallinson in one day was said to be over N3 billion.