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N6.9bn Money Laundering: New Judge Takes Over Former Ekiti Governor, Fayose's Trial

***As Fayose Absents Self In Court

By Francis Iwuchukwu, Lagos 

Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria, on Monday (today) took over the N6.9 billion money laundering charge slammed against the immediate past governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

With this development, the former governor will now be arraigned on June 28, 2019 before Justice Aneke on the money laundering charge.

Meanwhile, at today's sitting before Justice Aneke, Fayose was glaringly absent in court.

It would be recalled that the case against the former governor was last week transferred to Justice Aneke by the Chief Judge, CJ, of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati.

The decision of the CJ came consequent upon a petition initiated by the EFCC against the trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.

Prior to this decision, there was an open court altercation between Justice Olatoregun and lawyer to the anti-graft agency, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) on March 20, 2019.

According to the Commission in its petition dated May 21, 2019, and signed by its Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, the need to transfer the case from Justice Olatoregun of the Lagos Division of the court became imperative on the grounds that it had “lost confidence” in her.

Granting the request of the EFCC, the CJ in his response letter dated May 23, 2019  reassigned the case to Justice Aneke.

A copy of the letter sighted by THE NEWS ACCELERATOR NETWORK last Friday reads: “I refer to the petition of EFCC on this case and your Lordship’s comments thereto.

“It is apparent that the prosecution has lost confidence in the judge trying this case and justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done, I hereby transfer this case to Hon. Justice C. J. Aneke for hearing.”

In the proceedings which occurred on March 20, 2019, Justice Olatoregun had accused Jacobs (SAN) of evaluating a ruling delivered by her regarding the statements of a prosecution witness, Maroun Mechleb.

In that proceedings, the SAN had raised an allegation that the defence lawyers only tendered two out of the three pages of the two statements made by the witness to the EFCC.

Efforts by the EFCC lawyer to make the witness speak on the issue after he has been cross-examined was vehemently opposed to by the defence on the ground that he is not permitted by law to do so.

Specifically, the defence lawyer, Ola Olanipekun (SAN) and Olalekan Ojo (SAN) had insisted that Jacobs (SAN) is only permitted by law to re-examine the witness to clear any ambiguity that arose during cross-examination. 

The senior lawyers posited that the prosecution's action is tantamount to teaching them how to do their job.

Consequently, Justice Olatoregun in a bench ruling agreed with the submission of the defence lawyers saying they could even decide to tender just a page of the 3-page statements.

The former trial judge held that the only option left for Jacobs is to re-examine his witness if he has any reason to do so.

But after the ruling, Jacobs stood up to address the court, and in the process of talking that the judge picked holes in his submissions and accused him of evaluating her ruling, an allegation vehemently denied by Jacobs.

Below is the altercation that ensued:

Justice Olatoregun: “Mr Jacobs, you dare not, you are not competent to look into my ruling, to evaluate my ruling, you are totally incompetent, whether you are a Senior Advocate or not.

Jacobs: “I was not referring to Your lordship’s ruling.

Justice Olatoregun: “You are going beyond your bounds. Do not let me trash your practice. Listen to me, if you reevaluate my rulings in this court, you”ll get into trouble.

Justice Olatoregun: “You can only go on appeal, Mr Jacobs. Your mode of advocacy, I do not understand it, it looks like what do they call it?…Jankara market.

“You stand here to reevaluate my ruling, you are incompetent to do that. You do not stand there with impetus and reevaluate my ruling. I have ruled, relying on two Sections of the Evidence Act, if you have an objection, you go on appeal. 

“You have no competence, carrying your wig with arogance and we have a lot of young lawyers here. What kind of thing are you teaching them? To stand up to a judge and reevaluate the ruling of a judge? It will not happen in my court. 

“You re-examine your witness; if you are not re-examining, then close your case.

Jacobs: “My Lord, I did not refer your lordship to your lordship’s ruling. I never said a word about your lordship’s ruling.

Justice Olatoregun: “I do not take tangential comments here. You are fond of doing that. You are an extremely rude senior advocate. If you are a senior advocate, you are not older than me at the Bar and you are not older than me in age. In Yoruba land, we respect age and in this job, we have what they call professional ethics and respect for each other.

Jacobs: “That is what I have offered my lord.

Justice Olatoregun: ”You have not offered it.

Jacobs: “But For my lord to say that I am Jankara practice lawyer…

Justice Olatoregun: “Yes, I am saying it, if we finish here, you can write a petition to the NJC.

Jacobs: “No court has ever told me I engage in Jankara practice. My Lord, I’ve been on this job for a while.

Justice Olatoregun: “I do not want to know.”

Jacobs: “No judge has ever called me a Jankara lawyer.

Justice Olatoregun: “How many years have you spent?”

Jacobs: “I take exception to that word, Jankara. No judge can tell me that I am involved in Jankara practice.

Justice Olatoregun: “Now, are you re-examining your witness?

Jacobs: “Yes, I am. But I take exception to that word, Jankara practice. I take full exception to it. I do my job according to my conscience; according to what God told me. I will never pervert the course of justice; I will never call any man to come here and lie against another person. I fear God. But for one to supress justice, I will fight against it till date, till end.”

The former governor was on October 22, 2018 was arraigned by the EFCC alongside his company, Spotless Limited, on an 11-count charge of alleged N3.3 billion fraud before Justice Olatoregun.

But Fayose pleaded not guilty to the charge and was subsequently admitted to bail in the sum of N50 million with one surety in like sum.

According to the charge, on 17th June, 2014, Fayose and one, Abiodun Agbele, were said to have taken possession of the sum of N1.2 billion, for purposes of funding his gubernatorial election campaign in Ekiti State, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.

Fayose was alleged to have received a cash payment of the sum of $5 million (about N1.8 billion) from a former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, without going through any financial institution and which sum exceeded the amount allowed by law.

He was also alleged to have retained the sum of N300 million in his bank account and took control of the aggregate sums of about N622 million which sum he ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.

The former governor was also alleged to have procured De Privateer Ltd and Still Earth Ltd, to retain the aggregate sums of N851 million in his bank account which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.

Besides, the accused was alleged to have used the aggregate sums of about N1.6 billion to acquire property in Lagos and Abuja, which sums he reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.

The accused was also alleged to have used the sum of N200 million, to acquire a property in Abuja, in the name of his elder sister Moji Oladeji, which sum he ought to know also forms crime proceeds.

The offences contravenes the provisions of sections 15(1), 15 (2), 15 (3), 16(2)(b), 16 (d), and 18 (c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.

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