By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Supreme Court, yesterday, gave the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the nod to re-open the money laundering charge it preferred against former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji.
The apex court, in a unanimous verdict by a five-man panel of Justices, voided the judgement of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court that terminated further hearing on the charge against Ikuforiji who was accused of complicity in a N388million fraud.
Trial Justice Ibrahim Buba had in a ruling in September 2014, held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima facie case against Ikuforiji and his co-defendant, Oyebode Atoyebi, even as he dismissed 56-count charge against them.
Dissatisfied with the high court’s verdict, EFCC took the matter before the Court of Appeal in Lagos, which in November 2016, up-turned Justice Buba’s verdict and ordered that Ikuforiji and his former aide be tried afresh before another judge.
Nerveless, both Ikuforiji and Atoyebi lodged separate appeals before the Supreme Court.
In their judgment on Friday, the apex court upheld the position of the appellate court, even as it ordered EFCC to re-try Ikuforiji.
The Supreme Court panel headed by Justice Mary Peter-Odilli directed that the trial should be conducted by another judge of the Federal High Court other than Justice Buba.
Justice Ejembi Eko who read the lead judgement of the apex court ordered that the trial should start de novo (afresh).
According to Justice Eko, “Charges were amended and increased to a total of 54. Charges related to acceptance of various cash payments from Lagos State House of Assembly without going through financial institution which under the Money Laundering. (Prohibition) Act are each criminal offences.
“I considered all the issues and found no merit in the appeal. I dismiss the appeal in its entirety. The decision of the Court of Appeal delivered on November 26, 2014 and the orders made therein are affirmed and I order that the case be re-assigned to a judge of the Federal High Court other than Buba J. for expeditious hearing and determination de novo.”
It will be recalled that the apex court had earlier in December 2017, equally ordered EFCC to re-open case against Atoyebi before a new judge.
The EFCC had contended that Justice Buba erred in law when he pronounced that the charges against Ikuforiji and Atoyebi were incompetent because they were brought under the Money Laundering Act 2004, said to have been repealed by the Money Laundering Act 2011.
EFCC prosecutor, Chief Godwin Obla, SAN, had in one of the 10 grounds of the appeal, contended that the high court was wrong to have concluded that Section 1 of the Money laundery Act applied only to natural persons and corporate bodies, and not to government entities like the Office of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly.