ABUJA – Nigeria’s ex-interior Minister pleaded not guilty  to fraud and money laundering charges worth $3.4 million (677 million Naira) related to a fraudulent recruitment drive that caused a deadly stampede in which 20 people were killed and scores injured.

Abba Moro, who served under former President Goodluck Jonathan, is accused of conspiring with three ex-civil servants and the company that oversaw the recruitment process to defraud nearly 700,000 job applicants.

“Moro is being prosecuted alongside one-time permanent secretary in the ministry, Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia, a deputy director in the ministry, F. O Alayebami, one Mahmood Ahmadu (at large), and Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited, a firm that was given the recruitment job, in the fatal Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment exercise in 2014,” read a statement from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – EFCC – a Nigerian law enforcement agency that investigates financial crimes.

According to the EFCC, the accused are thought to have “defrauded a total of 675,675 Nigerian job applicants to the tune of $3.4 million (N675, 675,000) representing $5 (N1000) per applicant through e-payment for their online recruitment exercise into the Nigerian Immigration Service, on March 17, 2013.”

The EFCC also said that the recruitment exercise “was carried out in a negligent manner and led to the death of about 20 applicants in various recruitment centres across the country.”

Moro is the latest cabinet member who served under Jonathan to face corruption charges since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in May 2015 after winning an election on a campaign promise to whip out corruption.

In March 2013, thousands of job applicants thronged stadiums in the Nigerian cities of Abuja, Benin and Port Harcourt, as well as a school in Mina city in the immigration service recruitment drive, leading to deadly stampedes that left 20 dead and others injured.

The huge turnout highlighted the desperation for jobs in Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation, where oil wealth has enriched a small elite, but failed to create employment for the masses.

The EFCC alleges that proceeds from the recruitment exercise were used to refurbish a house in an upmarket district of the capital Abuja.

All of the defendants pleaded not guilty.

Moro gets bail on self-recognisance

The embattled ex-Interior Minister Abba Moro was granted a “self-recognition” bail on March 3.

“Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, March 3, 2016, granted bail on self-recognition to the embattled ex-Interior Minister, Abba Moro, in a procurement fraud and money laundering suit brought against him and three others by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC,” said an EFCC Statement.

Prior to that, Moro had been remanded in custody.

The case has been adjourned to April 27, 2016 for trial.

– Richard Wanekeya, Correspondent (Africa)