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Alleged Money Laundering: You Are No Longer A Serving Judge, Court Tells Dismissed Justice Ajumogobia

***Loses Bid To Stop Trial 

By Francis Iwuchukwu, Lagos 

Justice Rilwan Aikawa of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria, on Friday (today) held that dismissed Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia is no longer a serving judicial officer of the Federal High Court and therefore can answer questions to the criminal charge that has to do with money laundering initiated against her by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Throwing out the preliminary objection raised by fired Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia who had confronted her trial as a serving judicial officer as well as the jurisdiction of the court to try her,  Justice Aikawa read out a memo dated November 7, 2018, signed by the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, approving the dismissal of the 1st defendant/applicant from the Bench as recommended by the National Judicial Council, NJC.

According to Justice Aikawa, “The president has approved the recommendation of the NJC and has therefore approved the dismissal of the 1st defendant/applicant.

"In my view, the 1st defendant has been dismissed as a judicial officer.

"In the light of this, she can stand trial as she is no longer a judicial officer.

"The application lacks merit and is accordingly dismissed."

Before declaring dismissed Justice Ajumogobia as no longer being a judicial officer, the trial judge disagreed with the contention of the 1st defendant's counsel that the exhibit marked 'Restricted' is a private document.

Justice Aikawa argued that the document exhibit EFCC 02, though marked  'Restricted' but bearing the coat of arm of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, qualified it as a public document.

The trial judge said, “An official letter from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Chief Justice of Nigeria is a public document.”

In a similar manner, Justice Aikawa dismissed the application instituted by the second defendant Godwin Obla (SAN) seeking to quash counts one, two and three for abuse of court process or in the alternative separate his trial from the charge against the 1st defendant and be tried separately.

Making reference to the trial of the defendants before Justice Hakeem Oshodi of the High Court of Lagos sitting in Ikeja, Justice Aikawa noted that in that judgement, the case was only struck out, adding that, “The defendants in that trial were not discharged and acquitted.

“They can therefore be re-arraigned before another court if the prosecution wishes to reopen the case.”

Concerning the contention that is on Appeal, Justice Aikawa insisted that, “The provisions of ACJA has not render trial in the matter invalid.”

As a result of this, Justice Aikawa rejected the first prayer of Obla (SAN).

Concerning the second leg of Obla's application, it was refused in its entirety by the court.

Justice Aikawa ruled that the trial of the two defendants will go together. 

“I therefore refuse the second application”, the judge added.

Justice Aikawa adjourned the criminal case until October 24 and 25 for commencement of trial.

It would be recalled that the anti-graft agency had charged sacked Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla (SAN), on an 18 counts bordering on conspiracy, unlawful enrichment, retention of crime proceeds and noney laundering.

But they had pleaded not guilty to all counts contained in the charge and were admitted to bail in the sum of N10 million each with two sureties in like sum.

The duo were first arraigned before Justice Oshodi of an Ikeja High Court which had struck out the charge on jurisdictional grounds.

Consequent upon striking out of the charge, EFCC preferred same charge against the defendants, before the Federal High Court.

According to the charge, the Commission alleged that the defendants conspired on May 21, 2014, to indirectly conceal different sums of money, in the Diamond Bank account of Nigel & Colive Ltd, a company alleged to be operated by Ajumogobia.

They were further alleged to have conspired to retain in same account, the sum of N500 million, which they both reasonably ought to have known formed part of proceeds of unlawful acts of unlawful enrichment.

Specifically, Ajumogobia was alleged to have on different dates in 2014, retained sums of monies like: N5million, 150,000 dollars, 20,000 dollars, 30,000 dollars, 50,000 dollars, and 55,000 dollars in the Diamond bank account of Nigel and Colive.

Besides, the Commission also accused Ajumogobia of indirectly concealing the sum of N12million in the same account, and making false statement to the EFCC that the money was payment for sale of a landed property.

The alleged offences contravene the provisions of Sections 15 (2) (a) and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act.

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