Ex-Nigerian defense chief denies $15 million fraud charges

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's former chief of defense staff pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of alleged fraud, criminal breach of trust and money laundering involving around 3 billion naira ($15.1 million). Air Marshall Alex Badeh, who appeared at the Federal High Court in the capital, Abuja, denied allegations that he used money allocated for Nigeria's air force to buy a mansion and a commercial plot of land, and build a shopping mall. President Muhammadu Buhari took office last year after vowing to crackdown on corruption and Badeh is the latest in a string of senior figures who served under the head of state's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, to face graft charges in court. Badeh was appointed Chief of Air Staff in 2013 and promoted to Chief of Defense Staff in 2014. He was sacked by Buhari, along with the heads of the army, navy and air force, two months after the president was inaugurated. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said Badeh and a company in 2013 "did use dollar equivalent of the sum of 1.1 billion naira removed from the accounts of the Nigerian Air Force to purchase for yourselves a mansion" in Abuja's upmarket Maitama district. Among the other nine charges, all of which were denied by Badeh, were allegations that he and the company used the dollar equivalent of 650 million naira from air force funds to buy "a commercial plot" of land, with a further 1.2 billion naira used "for the construction of a shopping mall". The former defense chief was remanded in custody until his bail application hearing, which will take place on Thursday. Former defense and finance ministers as well as the ex-National Security Adviser, who all served under Jonathan, have been charged with corruption offences in recent months. Sambo Dasuki, the former security adviser, denies any wrongdoing. (Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alison Williams)