The trial of a former speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, on money laundering charges was on Monday, stalled at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The trial judge, Mohammed Liman, did not sit on Monday, following a letter by a defence counsel seeking an adjournment of the case to a more convenient date.
Monday was the second time the trial could not proceed as scheduled this month. The previous sitting failed to hold as scheduled, and the case was subsequently adjourned till 20 November (Monday).
As the proceedings also failed to hold on Monday, parties were told that a new date would be communicated to them.
The trial judge, Mr Liman, had been transferred out of the Lagos division but still comes to preside over the case based on a fiat issued by the Chief Judge.
Mr Ikuforiji is charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside his former Personal Assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi.
They are being tried before on 54 counts of money laundering involving N338.8 million.
They had each pleaded not guilty and were allowed to continue on an earlier bail granted to them in 2012 when they were first arraigned.
On 17 March 2021, the EFCC closed its case after calling the second witness for the prosecution.
Meanwhile, Mr Liman was later transferred out of the Lagos division and the case suffered several setbacks.
On 4 May 2023, defence counsel Dele Adesina, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), opened the case.
The defence called three witnesses, including the first defendant (Mr Ikuforiji), before closing its case earlier in the year.
Mr Ikuforiji had testified, among other issues, how he was being prosecuted based on a faceless petition.
He had told the court that the case arose from a petition written by an unknown person, alleging that he had stolen about N7 billion from the Lagos State House of Assembly.
The matter was subsequently fixed for the adoption of written addresses.
The defendants were first arraigned on 1 March 2012 before Okechukwu Okeke (now retired) on 20 counts charge on 20 counts of money laundering.
They had each pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bail.
Following the retirement of Mr Okeke, the defendants were subsequently re-arraigned before Ibrahim Buba.
Mr Buba had granted them bail in the sum of N500 million each with sureties in like sun
On 26 September 2014, Mr Buba discharged Mr Ikuforiji and his aide, after upholding a no-case submission of 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 a notice of appeal dated 30 September 2014 challenging the decision of the trial court.
Mr Obla had 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.
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 the government.
The commission had also submitted 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 its judgement, the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, in November 2016, agreed with the prosecution and ordered a fresh trial of the defendants before another judge.
But the defendants challenged the Court of Appeal’s decision at the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, however, upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal and ordered that the case be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge.
According to the charge, EFCC alleged 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.
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 between April 2010 and 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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