By Michael Ojo
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday, called its first witness before a Federal High Court Lagos, in the trial of a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, charged with N338.8 million money laundering.
Ikuforiji is charged alongside his former Personal Assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi. on 54 counts bordering on the offences.
They had pleaded not guilty before Justice Mohammed Liman and were allowed to continue on an earlier bail granted to them in 2012 when they were first arraigned.
On Wednesday, Mr Ekene Ihenacho appeared for the prosecution while Mr Dele Adesina (SAN) appeared for the defendants.
The prosecutor called his first witness, Mr Adebayo Adeniyi, an investigator with the EFCC.
The witness told the court that he has worked with the Commission for 15 years, adding that his schedule of duty includes investigation, search, as well as any other duty relating to investigation.
He told the court that he had worked in the Intelligence and Special Operations unit of the EFCC, between 2009 and 2012 and also in the Economic Government Department (EG) between 2012 and 2016.
He said that he currently works in the EG department.
The witness said that in June 2011, a petition was written against the first defendant for allegedly siphoning N500million monthly from the Lagos House of Assembly.
He said that the EFCC went into investigation and visited the House of Assembly in Lagos.
He said that from the office of the Clerk, they recovered some document which were instrumental to their investigation, while the clerk was invited to the Commission.
“We recovered some payment register and when we went through them, we discovered that a lot of cash payments were made to the second defendant, and we invited him to explain why the payments were made to him.
“He told us that the payments were meant for the first defendant, and when we interrogated the first defendant, he actually confirmed that the second defendant was collecting the monies for him,” he said.
The prosecutor then showed the witness a bulk of document and asked him to identify what the document were.
In response, the witness identified pages one to 12 of the document as being the statement of the first defendant, pages 13 to 24 as the statement of the second defendant, while pages 25 to 237 as other documents recovered from the clerk’s office.
The prosecutor then sought to tender the bulky document numbered 1 to 237 before the court.
Defence counsel did not oppose.
The court admitted the statements of the first and second defendants as exhibits A, B and B1.
The court admitted a search bundle as exhibit C, A cash release register ETD as exhibits D, a document tagged Chili Bulk 2010 as exhibit E, and another bulk document as exhibit E1.
Meanwhile, the court said time will be taken to sort the other document.
The prosecutor then asked the witness to narrate to the court his findings from the investigation conducted.
According to the witness, the EFCC discovered that series of cash payments were made to the second defendant, which were above the threshold allowed by the Money Laundering Act.
When prompted to demonstrate portions of such payments, the witness said that in exhbit E, from the transaction of April 30, 2010, the sum of N3 million was collected by the second defendant on behalf of the first
“On April 27, 2010, N10 million was collected in cash by the second defendant, while on May 6, 2010, the cash sum of N1.7 million was also collected by the second defendant on behalf of the first,” he said
Meanwhile, Justice Liman, queried this pattern of examination by the prosecution, on the grounds that it was not the duty of the witness to “speak” to the document in the manner done.
The court noted that such manner of examination was only wasting the time of the court, since the prosecution would also speak on same document during addresses.
He urged parties to make progress in the case, which he also noted had spanned a period of almost 10 years since 2011.
After listening to the court the prosecutor asked for an adjournment to enable him do some arrangements of the documents to be tendered.
Defence counsel did not oppose this prayer for adjournment.
Justice Liman fixed Oct. 14 for continuation of trial.
The defendants were first arraigned on March 1, 2012 before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a 20-count charge bordering on misappropriation and money laundering.
They had each pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bails.
The defendants were, however, subsequently re-arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba, following a re-assignment of the case.
Buba had granted them bail in the sum of N500 million each with sureties in like sun
On Sept. 26, 2014, Justice Buba discharged Ikuforiji and his aide of the charges, after upholding a no case submission of the defendants.
Buba had held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against them.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC through its counsel, Mr Godwin Obla (SAN), filed the Notice of Appeal dated Sept. 30, 2014 challenging the decision of the trial court.
Obla had argued that the trial court erred in law when it held that the counts were incompetent because they were filed under Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 which was repealed by an Act of 2011.
EFCC further argued that the lower court erred in law when it held that the provisions of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011, only applied to natural persons and corporate bodies other than the Government.
The commission had also submitted that the trial judge erred in law when he held and concluded that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondents.
In its judgement, the Lagos Division of the Appeal Court, in November 2016, agreed with the prosecution and ordered a fresh trial of the defendants before another judge.
Following the decision of the Appeal Court, the defendants headed to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the ruling of the Appellate court.
Again, in its verdict, the apex court also upheld the decision of the appellate court and ordered that the case be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge.
According to the charge, EFCC alleged that the defendants accepted cash payments above the threshold set by the Money Laundering Act, without going through a financial institution.
The commission accused the defendants of conspiring to commit an illegal act of accepting cash payments in the aggregate sum of N338.8 million from the House of Assembly without going through a financial institution.
Ikuforiji was also accused of using his position to misappropriate funds belonging to the Assembly.
The EFCC said that the defendants committed the offences between April 2010 and July 2011.
The offences, according to the EFCC, contravenes the provisions of Sections 15 (1d), 16(1d) and 18 of Money Laundering Act, 2004 and 2011.