By Austin Ogwuda
ASABA â€” IMMEDIATE past Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, has exonerated the presiding Judge of the Federal High Court, Asaba Division, Justice Mercel Awokunlehin, handling the 170-count charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, of the accusations that he (Justice Awokunlehin) sent a letter to the Southwark Crown Court, in a bid to influence a similar case in London.
Rather, he said it was his (Ibori) lawyer that actually wrote a letter to the London Court when the need arose to relate with his defence team in London.
Although it is not clear whether the court will sit today to give ruling on the application filed by Ibori seeking to strike out the charges, due to the ongoing nationwide strike by court workers, anxious loyalists of the former Governor have started arriving Asaba in anticipation of the ruling.
Ibori who spoke through his lawyer, Mr. Emeka Arinze said â€œto put the facts and records straight on the relationship between the London court trying Udoamaka Okonkwo and others on similar charges in Nigeria and the transmission of documents, any letter written, or any correspondence shared was between me (Arinze) and the Asaba Court, and between me and a London Lawyerâ€.
â€œSometime in September 2009, I was briefed and my services retained by Chief James Onanefe Ibori for himself and for all the accused persons to join the defence team in the on-going trial at the Federal High Court, Asaba, Delta State and where the need arises to relate with his legal team in London where a similar trial is going on in a London court.
â€œTo be fully acquainted with the development of the trailâ€, he went on, â€œI wrote a letter to The Federal High Court, Asaba dated the 23rd September, 2009 seeking confirmation of the stage of the proceedings. I specifically required confirmation on when briefs were filed and exchanged by all the parties; the date to which the matter was adjourned and the purpose for which it was adjourned. A copy of the letter is enclosed for ease of reference.
â€œOn 30th September, 2009 I received a reply from the Registry of the Federal High Court, Asaba, confirming that the prosecution filed their brief on 17th August, 2009 and the accused persons filed on 4th August, 2009. The Registrarâ€™s letter also confirmed that the matter was on 6th August, 2009 adjourned to 26th October, 2009 for adoption of briefs by the respective Counsel.
A copy of the said letter is also enclosed for ease of reference. In furtherance of my legal services, and at the request made by Andrew Trollop QC, the head of the London legal team representing the 2nd accused person in similar charges in a London Court with regard to the state of the matter involving the 2nd accused in the Federal High Court, Asaba, I duly informed him of the progress of the case in Asaba.
â€œI also forwarded to him by e-mail the communication that transpired between me and the Registry of the Federal High Court Asaba. I know as a fact and having been informed by the 2nd accused person that, other than my communication with the defence team in London, no other communication was transmitted from the Federal High Court in Asaba in respect of the said trial to the London Courtâ€, he added.
In view of the anticipated crowd, the state police command says adequate security arrangements have been put in place.