By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Mr. Sani Katu, on Wednesday, applied to withdraw his appearance as the defence lawyer in the ongoing trial of the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina.
Maina, who is answering to a 12-count money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, entered against him and his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Limited, had since opened his defence to the charge.
At the resumed proceedings in the case on Wednesday, Katu, SAN, who has been leading the defence team, notified the trial court of his decision to pull out from the case.
Immediately the matter was called, the senior lawyer, made his application.
He said: “My lord, the matter is adjourned for continuation of hearing and for us to bring another witness today. But, before then, we have an application we are compelled to make.
“The application is to seek for leave of this Court to withdraw from this matter. In doing this, we appreciate the court’s indulgence”.
However, the Prosecution counsel, Mr. Farouk Abdullah, opposed the withdrawal application and urged the court to compel Maina and his defence team to proceed with the business of the day.
Abdullah contended that Maina’s lawyer, Katu, SAN, failed to fulfil the statutory condition precedent that would have paved way for him to withdraw from the trial.
“My lord, as rightly stated, this matter is slated today for continuation of defence. While we concede that a Defendant has the constitutional right to a counsel of his choice, and a counsel in the matter can also withdraw at any time he deems fit.
“However, our only reservation is the non-compliance to section 349(8) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
“In view of the non-compliance of senior counsel to the provision of the extant law on withdrawal of counsel, we pray the court to refuse the application and direct that the business of the day be done”, Abdullah submitted.
Responding, Katu, SAN, prayed the court for a short adjournment to enable him to file a formal application to withdraw from the trial.
“In as much as he has stated the law as it is, which requires that I notify the court in not less than three days before the date fixed for hearing.
“We have complied with the section, in that we appeared for the first Defendant yesterday, and in attempt not to spring surprises on the Prosecution, I specifically told the Prosecution, off record, of our desire to withdraw from this matter. Hence my inability to file a formal application.
“May I humbly apply for a short adjournment”, Katu added.
Remarkably, Katu is the second SAN to withdraw from the trial.
It will be recalled that the previous defence lawyer in the matter, Chief J. K. Gadzama, SAN, pulled out of the case after his client, Maina, jumped bail and fled the country midway into his trial.
Similarly, counsel that hitherto represented Maina’s firm, Mr. Adeola Adedipe, also withdrew his further appearance in the matter.
The former pension reform boss had shortly after he was arrested in Niger Republic and returned back to the country by Interpol, engaged another lawyer, Mr. Anayo Adibe to handle his defence.
However, few days before the commencement of his defence to the charge, Maina brought in Katu, SAN, to take over from Adibe.
Meanwhile, though Katu, SAN, did not state the reason behind his decision to withdraw from the case, Vanguard, however, learned that it was not unconnected with Maina’s insistence on summoning some persons, including the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, and former Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, to testify as witnesses in his trial.
A member of the defence team who pleaded anonymity told Vanguard that Katu, SAN, was not aware that Maina had through another lawyer, applied for subpoenas to be issued on Malami, Magu and the others, a request that was accordingly granted by the court.
EFCC had in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/256/2019, alleged that Maina used a bank account that was operated by his firm and laundered funds to the tune of about N2billion, part of which he used to acquire landed properties in Abuja.
It told the court that the 1st Defendant (Maina) used fictitious names to open and operate various bank accounts, as well as recruited his relatives that were bankers to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channelled.
The Prosecution maintained that the Defendants committed criminal offences punishable under sections 11(2) (a), 15(3), and 16(2) (c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, and also acted in breach of the Advance Fee Fraud Act.
The Defendants who were arraigned on October 25, 2019, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
EFCC had earlier closed its case against the Defendants after it called a total of nine witnesses, even as the court ordered Maina to open his defence to the charge.
Maina had since called one witness that testified on his behalf.