Sunday, November 28, 2021

Judge’s absence stalls ex-Lagos speaker’s 9-year-old fraud trial

Mr Ikuforiji is accused of accepting cash payments in the aggregate sum of N338.8 million from the House of Assembly without going through a financial institution.

• November 15, 2021
Adeyemi Ikuforiji
Adeyemi Ikuforiji

The Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Monday adjourned the trial of a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, as the trial judge was said to be indisposed.

Mr Ikuforiji was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside his former personal assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi, on a 54-count charge bordering on money laundering.

They had pleaded not guilty before Justice Mohammed Liman and were allowed to continue on bail granted them in 2012 when they were first arraigned.

The trial of the defendants, earlier scheduled to continue on Monday, was stalled as the trial judge was said to be indisposed. The court said a new date will be communicated to parties in the suit.

At the last adjourned date, on March 17, the EFCC closed its case after calling its second witness, Adewale Olatunji, a former Clerk of the House.

Mr Olatunji was led in evidence in EFCC counsel, Ekele Iheanacho, while he was cross-examined by defence counsel, Dele Adesina (SAN).

The defence was scheduled to open its case on May 11, but the strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) hindered it.

After the strike ended, the Federal High Court proceeded on its annual vacation.

Before the vacation, there was a transfer of judges, and Mr Liman was transferred to another division.

However, Mr Liman is presiding over Mr Ikuforiji’s trial on administrative fiat.

The defendants were first arraigned on March 1, 2012, before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a 20-count charge bordering on fund misappropriation and money laundering.

They pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.

The defendants were subsequently re-arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba, following the re-assignment of the case.

Mr Buba granted them bail in the sum of N500 million each, with sureties in like sum.

On September 26, 2014, Mr Buba discharged Mr Ikuforiji and his aide after upholding a no-case submission filed by the defendants.

Mr Buba had held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against them.

Dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC through its counsel, Godwin Obla (SAN), filed an appeal dated September 30, 2014, challenging the decision of the trial court.

Mr Obla argued that the trial court erred in law when it held that the counts were incompetent because they were filed under Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, which was repealed by an Act of 2011.

The EFCC further argued that the lower court erred in law when it held that the provisions of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011, only applied to natural persons and corporate bodies other than government.

The commission had also submitted that the trial judge erred in law when he held and concluded that the testimonies of prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondents.

In its judgment in November 2016, the Lagos Division of the Appeal Court agreed with the prosecution and ordered a fresh trial of the defendants before another judge.

Following the decision of the appellate court, the defendants headed to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the ruling of the appellate court.

In its verdict, the apex court also upheld the decision of the appellate court and ordered that the case should be sent back to the chief judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge.

Justice Liman consequently presides over the case.

According to the charge, the defendants were accused of conspiring to commit an illegal act of accepting cash payments in the aggregate sum of N338.8 million from the House of Assembly without going through a financial institution.

The amount is above the threshold set by the Money Laundering Act.

Mr Ikuforiji was also accused of using his position to misappropriate funds belonging to the assembly.

The EFCC said that the defendants committed the offences from April 2010 to July 2011.

The offences, according to the EFCC, contravene the provisions of Sections 15 (1d), 16(1d) and 18 of the Money Laundering Act, 2004 and 2011.

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