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Lagos ex-Speaker Ikuforiji to face fresh trial in alleged N500m fraud — Appeal Court

The former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji and his Personal Assistant (PA), Oyebode Atoyebi, will face fresh charges in a N500 million money laundering allegation, a court of Appeal in Lagos State ruled.

In a unanimous judgment, the court set aside the verdict of the trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, holding that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had made out a prima facie case against the former Speaker to require him to enter a defence to the charge brought against him.

The court, in the lead judgment delivered by Justice Biobela Georgewill, also ordered that trial should start ‘de novo’ (afresh) before another judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos other than Justice Buba in the light of the far-reaching findings already made by him.

Other members of the three-man panel are: Justice Side Dauda Bage and Justice Ugochukwu Ogakwu.

It would be recalled that Justice Buba, on September 26, 2014, discharged Ikuforiji and Atoyebi of a 56 count charge of conspiracy and laundering the sum of N500 million belonging to the Assembly, an offences which according to the EFCC contravened sections 15 (1d) and 16(1d) of Money Laundry Act, MLA, 2004 and 2011.

The Judge, who discharged the Speaker and Atoyebi, while ruling on a no case submission filed by the duo, held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against the against the accused persons and also failed to proof any of the ingredients of the crime of money laundering.

But dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC  in the Notice of Appeal dated September 30, 2014 asked the Court of Appeal to hold that Justice Buba erred in law, when he held and concluded that counts 2-48 are incompetent, because they were filed pursuant to Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 which said law was repealed by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.

The EFCC further argued that the lower court erred in law, when it held that the provision of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011 only applies to natural persons and corporate bodies other than government; like the office of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly.

The commission also submitted that the trial judge erred in law when it held and concluded that the case of the prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondent.

Justice Georgewill in his lead judgment held that the offences created by Section 1 of the MLA 2004 and 2011 respectively are strict liability offences and that their proof does not depend on the approval and purposes the money was used for, once the amount is above the threshold amount and was not paid or receive through a financial institution either by an individual or a body corporate.