Trial of a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, resumed on Wednesday, December 9, 2020, before a Federal High Court in Lagos with the cross examination of a first prosecution witness, Mr Adebayo Adeniyi.
The witness, an investigator with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) told the court that he did not receive any petition of money laundering against the defendant.
Ikuforiji is charged alongside his former Personal Assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi, on a 54 counts charge bordering on N338.8 million money laundering.
They had pleaded not guilty before Justice Mohammed Liman and were allowed to continue on an earlier bail granted to them in 2012 when they were first arraigned.
Trial has since commenced before Justice Liman and the prosecution is still leading witnesses in evidence.
At the last adjourned date on Nov. 25, during examination in chief, the witness (Adeniyi) had given evidence how investigations into the instant case was triggered by a petition filed by an agency.
When trial resumed on Wednesday, defence counsel, Mr Dele Adesina (SAN) began cross examination of the witness and asked, “At the last adjourned date, you gave evidence that a petition written by a Nigerian anti corruption agency triggered off your investigation?”
The witness replied, “Yes”.
Defence then urged the witness to take a look at a document representing photocopy of the said petition, indicating a call for investigation into a N7billion fraud, and the witness confirmed same.
When asked if the original was in custody of the EFCC, he replied, “It should be”.
Defence then sought to tender the document before the court.
The prosecution did not object and the court admitted same and marked it as exhibit A.
Defence counsel then asked the witness if in the course of his investigation he found any allegations of N7billion fraud established against the first defendant.
In response, the witness explained that he did not investigate fraud and so, could only speak for money laundering.
Rephrasing his question, Adesina asked the witness again, “Your investigation was made on money laundering, did you received any petition on money laundering against the defendant?”
The witness who tried to explain was asked by the defence to give a straight answer.
He replied, “No, I did not”.
When asked if government treasury is a financial institution he replied, “It is not”.
The witness also confirmed that he was definitely in court to represent the EFCC and not in his personal capacity.
On whether it is correct to say that institutions act through human beings, the witness replied, “Yes”.
After defence had concluded his cross examination of the witness, the prosecutor, Mr Ekene Iheanacho, sought to call his second witness, Mr Adewale Taiwo a former clerk of the House.
But defence counsel, objected to the presence of the witness who had already entered the witness box and was sworn on oath.
Defence argued that the name of the witness was not listed in the proof of evidence and added, “He has just brought this witness from the moon”.
The court on its part, confirmed from its record that the witness was subpoenaed but added that he could not find the witness’ statement on oath.
Defence therefore, urged the prosecutor to do the needful so as to make progress in the case, or close its case if it deems it fit as it had already called its principal witness.
He also said he will oblige an adjournment.
The court consequently, adjourned the case until February 3, 2021 for continuation of trial.
The defendants were first arraigned on March 1, 2012, before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a 20-count charge bordering on misappropriation and money laundering.
They had each 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 September 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 them.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC through its counsel, Mr Godwin Obla (SAN), filed the Notice of Appeal dated Sept. 30, 2014 challenging 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.
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 Appeal Court, in November 2016, agreed with the prosecution and ordered a fresh trial of the defendants before another judge.
Following the decision of the Appeal Court, the defendants headed to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the ruling 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.
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 said that the defendants committed the offences between April 2010 and July 2011.
The offences, according to the EFCC, contravenes the provisions of Sections 15 (1d), 16(1d) and 18 of Money Laundering Act, 2004 and 2011.