By Innocent Anaba
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and former Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose, yesterday traded blames before a Federal High Court siting in Lagos, over who was responsible for the delay in the on-going trial of Fayose over alleged financial crimes and money laundering to the tune of N1.4Â billion.
EFCC counsel, at resumed hearing in the matter, told the court that Fayose was stalling the trial with the preliminary objection he had just brought, challenging the amended charge filed against him by the EFCC.
According to its counsel, â€œthis matter was adjourned since last four months to today (yesterday). The EFCC has been seriously criticised over the delay in the prosecution of former Governors in the country including the accused person. Some have even blamed the court for the delay.
Since the matter was adjourned four months ago, the defence counsel only remembered to file objection to the amended charge yesterday. My Lord, this is clearly an antics from the defence counsel to scuttle the process. Nevertheless, we want them to argue their application but we are protesting the conduct of the defence team because the application was intended to ridicule the integrity of the courtâ€.
But Fayoseâ€™s counsel argued that his client had been diligent since the commencement of the case and had never for once failed to attend court, noting that it was the EFCCÂ that has been delaying the matter.
He further contended that trial had already started and witnesses called before the EFCC suddenly filed new charge against his client.Â â€œWe have been diligent in our case. Trial has commenced on the earlier charge and the prosecution has called the second witness only for them to suddenly amended the charge and brought in completely strange accused persons. It has never been an act of professional misconduct to file application in court and it is a misuse of words on the part of the EFCC counsel to insinuate that we have not been diligentâ€, he argued.
In a short ruling, trial judge in the matter, Justice Tijani Abubakar agreed with the submissionâ€™s of the commission and held that the delay in filing of the objection was an attempt to delay the trial.
The court adjourned the matter till October 22, 2009Â for ruling on the preliminary objection.
Fayose in his preliminary objection, prayed the court not to allow the prosecution to amend the charge, arguing that the matter is already before the court of Appeal. His counsel contended that the amendment would infringe on Fayoseâ€™s right to fair hearing within a reasonable time and that the amendment was a clear abuse of judicial process.
He urged the court to refuse the amended charge and stay further proceedings in the matter,Â pending the decision of the appellate court on the appeal.
But the EFCC opposed the application on the ground that sufficient materials were not placed before the court to warrant the application. â€œThere is nothing on the face of the application to show the court that there is any appeal. The court is entitled to see what the appeal constitute to see if truly the accused will be prejudiced if the amended charge is allowedâ€, the commission argued.
Fayose in theÂ 51-count charge brought against him, is accused of laundering about N1.4 billion of Ekiti state funds in collaboration with a firm, Biological Concept Nigeria Limited through the state Integrated Poultry Project Scheme.