BREAKING: Judge withdraws from EFCC’s N4.9bn fraud case against Fani-Kayode
A Judge of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Thursday withdrew from the N4.9bn fraud case brought against a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode.
Justice Muslim Hassan ordered the return of the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, for re-assignment to another judge.
He directed Fani-Kayode and his co-defendants to go and await further directive from Justice Auta.
Fani-kayode is standing trial alongside a former Minister of State for Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman, and a former National Chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) Yusuf Danjuma.
Also charged is a company, Jointrust Dimentions Nigeria Ltd.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had preferred against the accused, a 17-count charge of laundering about N4.6billion.
They had each pleaded not guilty.
On Thursday, Justice Muslim Hassan in a ruling, withdrew from the criminal trial of the accused.
His withdrawal followed an application by counsel to Fani-Kayode, Mr Norrison Quakers (SAN), urging the court to step aside from the suit.
“It will serve the interest of justice for me to withdraw from this suit,” the Judge ruled.
The judge further held that the case file will be returned to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ndahi Auta, for re-assignment to another judge.
He consequently, directed the accused to await further directives from the Chief Judge.
At the last adjourned date in February, counsel to Fani-Kayode, (Quakers) had argued an application before the court, explaining why the judge should withdraw from the trial of the accused.
Quakers had contended that Justice Hassan, who worked as Head of Legal services at the EFCC before his appointment as a judge, signed the money laundering charges for which Fani-Kayode was previously prosecuted years back.
He added that Fani-Kayode was however, discharged and acquitted by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumobia on July 1, 2015.
On the other hand, counsel to Usman, Mr Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN) had also argued his application before the court, seeking a severance of the criminal charge.
Owonikoko had urged the court to allow Usman to be tried separately from Fani-Kayode as well as for her trial to be transferred from Lagos to the Abuja division, for purposes of convenience.
He had hinged his application on grounds of Usman’s health condition, adding that she resides in Abuja and always had to travel to Lagos each time the case came up, spending at least three days on each occasion.
He had therefore, urged the court to grant his application.
Opposing the applications, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo argued that the Chief Judge could not exercise his powers to transfer a case where the prosecution had called its first witness.
Besides, Oyedepo had argued that 13 of the listed 17 witness lived in Lagos
In opposing the application by Fani-Kayode, Oyedepo had argued that although Justice Hassan signed the charges as head of EFCC’s legal department, the case was prepared and prosecuted by an external counsel, Mr Festus Keyamo.
He had said that the judge did not feature in the trial of Fani-Kayode at any time, adding that nothing has been placed before the court to justify the likelihood of any bias.
In the charge, the accused were alleged to have committed the offences between January and March 2015.
They were alleged to have unlawfully retained over N3.8 billion which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act of stealing and corruption.
Fani-Kayode was alleged to have made payments to one Paste Poster Co (PPC), of No 125 Lewis St., Lagos, in excess of amounts allowed by law.
All offences were said to have contravened the provisions of sections 15 (3) (4), 16 (2) (b), and 16 (5) of the Money laundering (prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.