By Akin Kuponiyi
The re-trial of the former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji and his aide, Oyebode Atoyebi charged with 54 counts of laundering N338.8 million began on Wednesday at the Federal High Court in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.
The former Speaker and his aide are currently on bail.
The Economic and Financial Crime Commission EFCC’s prosecutor, Ekene Ihenacho appeared for the prosecution while Mr Dele Adesina, SAN leading six other lawyers appeared for the defendants.
In today’s proceedings, lhenacho called his first witness, Mr Adebayo Adeniyi, an investigator with the EFCC.
Adeniyi, while being led in evidence by Ihenacho told the Court that in June 2011, a petition was written against Ikuforiji for allegedly siphoning N500 million monthly from the Lagos House of Assembly account, saying consequently, the EFCC went into investigation and visited the House of Assembly in Lagos and that from the office of the Clerk, they recovered some documents which were instrumental to their investigation, while the clerk was invited to the Commission.
“Some payments register were recovered and when we went through them, we discovered that a lot of cash payments were made to Atoyebi, and we invited him to explain why the payments were made to him.
“He told us that the payments were meant for the former Speaker, and when we interrogated the former Speaker, he actually confirmed that Atoyebi was collecting the monies for him,” he said.
The prosecutor then showed the witness a bulk of documents and asked him to identify what the documents were.
In response, Adeniyi identified pages one to 12 of the documents as being the statement of the former Speaker, pages 13 to 24 as the statement of Atoyebi the second defendant, while pages 25 to 237 as other documents recovered from the clerk’s office.
The bulky documents numbered 1 to 237 were tendered before the court as exhibits.
Defence counsel, Adesina SAN did not oppose. The court admitted the documents,and said time would be taken to sort out the other documents.
The prosecutor then asked the witness to narrate to the court his findings from the investigation conducted.
Adeniyi further told the court that EFCC discovered that series of cash payments were made to Atoyebi, which were above the threshold allowed by the Money Laundering Act.
When prompted to demonstrate portions of such payments, the witness said that in one of the exhibits, from the transaction of April 30, 2010, the sum of N3 million was collected by the second defendant Atoyebi on behalf of the former Speaker.
“On April 27, 2010, N10 million was collected in cash by the second defendant, while on May 6, 2010, the cash sum of N1.7 million was also collected by the second defendant on behalf of the former Speaker,” he said
However, the presiding Judge, Justice Mohammed Liman, queried this pattern of examination by the prosecution, on the grounds that it was not the duty of the witness to “speak” to the document in the manner he has done.
The court noted that such manner of examination was only wasting the time of the court, since the prosecution would also speak on same document during address.
He urged parties to make progress in the case, which he also noted had spanned a period of almost 10 years since 2011.
After listening to the court, the prosecutor asked for an adjournment to enable him do some arrangements of the documents to be tendered.
Defence counsel did not oppose the request for adjournment.
Thereafter Justice Liman adjourned till October 14, 2020 for continuation of trial.
The former Speaker and his aide were first arraigned on March 1, 2012 before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a 20-count charge bordering on misappropriation funds and money laundering.
They pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bails.
The defendants were, however, subsequently re-arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba, following a re-assignment of the case.
Buba had granted them bail in the sum of N500 million each with sureties in like sum.
On Sept. 26, 2014, Justice Buba discharged Ikuforiji and his aide of the charges, after upholding a no case submission of the defendants.
Buba had held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against the two defendants.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC through its counsel, Mr Godwin Obla (SAN), filed an appeal to challenge the decision of the trial court.
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.
He contended further 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.
He also argued 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 Appeal Court, in November 2016, agreed with the prosecution and ordered a re- trial of the defendants before another judge.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the Appeal Court, the defendants appealed to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the judgement of the Appellate court.
Again, in its verdict, the apex court also 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, for a re-trial.
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.
Ikuforiji was also accused of using his position to misappropriate funds belonging to the Assembly.
The EFCC stated that the defendants committed the offences between April 2010 and July 2011, and the offences, alleged to have been committed contravened the provisions of Sections 15 (1d), 16(1d) and 18 of the Money Laundering Act, 2004 and 2011.