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Friday, February 21, 2020

For the third time, ex-Lagos Speaker, Ikuforiji, aide face trial over N333m fraud

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…Supreme Court orders retrial

 

Four years after he exited as the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, was again on Wednesday brought before a Federal High Court, Lagos, over alleged N338.8 million money laundering charges for the third time.

Charged alongside with his former Personal Assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi, the duo was first arraigned on March 1, 2012 before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a 20-count charge bordering on misappropriation and money laundering.

They were granted bails after they entered a “not-guilty’’ plea.

Ikuforiji and the co-defendant were, however, subsequently re-arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba following a re-assignment of the case.

On Sept. 26, 2014, Justice Buba discharged Ikuforiji and his aide of the charges after a no-case submission by the defendants.
Buba had ruled that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against them.

The EFCC appealed the ruling through its counsel, Mr Godwin Obla (SAN), which filed the Notice of Appeal dated Sept. 30, 2014 challenging the decision of the trial court.

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were incompetent because they were filed under Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 which was repealed by an Act of 2011.

According to him, 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 the Government.

In addition, the EFCC insisted that the trial judge erred in law when he held and concluded that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondents.

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

The defendants headed to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the ruling of the Appellate court.

The apex court upheld the decision of the appellate court and ordered that the case be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge.

Persecondnews reports that the trial will now begin “de novo’’ (afresh) before a new judge, Justice Mohammed Liman.

On Wednesday, Mr Ekele Iheanacho appeared for the prosecution while Mr Dele Adesina (SAN) appeared for the defendants.

When the case was called, the defendants were docked and the amended 54-count charge read to them.

Again, the duo denied the charges and Iheanacho asked for a trial date, and also urged the court to remand them in custody pending bail.

But Justice Liman held that since the charges were not new to the parties and the defendants were already on bail, he declined to make any remand order, and allowed them to continue on bails.

The Prosecution argued that since the case was starting afresh there was need for a new bail application.

Again, the judge overruled the submission on the grounds that the charges were the same and that the bails initially granted still subsist.

Liman then warned parties that the court would not tolerate unnecessary adjournments or repeated amendments to the charge during proceedings.

The court also directed parties to meet and agree on which documents they would not oppose to ensure a smooth trial.

Meanwhile, the judge said that the existing sureties should appear and renew their suretiship within two weeks, adding that where they are no more interested in being sureties, the defendants must ensure they produce new ones.

The court held that where the defendants fail to comply, a bench warrant may be issued against them.

EFCC is alleging that the defendants accepted cash payments above the threshold set by the Money Laundering Act, without going through a financial institution.

The commission accused the defendants 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 former Lagos speaker was also accused of using his position to misappropriate funds belonging to the House of Assembly.

The defendants, according to the EFCC, committed the offences between April 2010 and July 2011.

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

The case has been adjourned until Feb. 5 and Feb. 19, 2020 for trial.

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