The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati, has reassigned the N3.3 billion alleged fraud case involving a former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Ayodele Fayose, to another judge.
The CJ’s action was sequel to a petition written by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against the trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.
The petition was written on the heels of an open-court altercation between the judge and the lawyer representing the anti-graft agency in the matter, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) on 20th March, 2019.
The EFCC, in the petition dated 21st May, 2019, and signed by its Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, sought the transfer of the case away from Justice Olatoregun, of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on the grounds that it had “lost confidence” in her.
In granting the EFCC’s request, the CJ in a response letter dated 23rd May, 2019, reassigned the case to Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke.
A copy of the letter seen by Saturday Telegraph reads: “I refer to the petition of EFCC on this case and your Lordship’s comments thereto.
“It is apparent that the prosecution has lost confidence in the judge trying this case and justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done, I hereby transfer this case to Hon. Justice C. J. Aneke for hearing”.
Justice Olatoregun had in the course of proceedings of 20th March, 2019, accused Jacobs of evaluating a ruling she gave regarding the statements of a prosecution witness, Maroun Mechleb.
Earlier, Jacobs had alleged that the defence lawyers only tendered two out of the three pages of the two statements made by the witness to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as exhibits.
The silk’s efforts to make the witness speak on the issue after he has been cross-examined was vehemently opposed to by the defence on the ground that he is not permitted by law to do so.
The defence lawyers; Ola Olanipekun (SAN) and Olalekan Ojo (SAN) argued that Jacobs is only permitted by law to re-examine the witness to clear any ambiguity that arose during cross-examination. They said the prosecution lawyer’s action is tantamount to teaching them how to do their job.
In a Bench ruling on the contentious issue, Justice Olatoregun agreed with the submission of the defence lawyers saying they could even decide to tender just a page of the 3-page statements.
She said the only option left for Jacobs is to re-examine his witness if he has any reason to do so.
However, after the ruling, Jacobs stood up to address the court. It was while the silk was talking that the judge picked holes in his submissions and accused him of evaluating her ruling, an allegation vehemently denied by Jacobs.
The hot exchange of words that proceeded the allegation is reproduced below:
Judge: “Mr Jacobs, you dare not, you are not competent to look into my ruling, to evaluate my ruling, you are totally incompetent, whether you are a Senior Advocate or not.
Jacobs: “I was not referring to Your lordship’s ruling.
Judge: “You are going beyond your bounds. Do not let me trash your practice. Listen to me, if you reevaluate my rulings in this court, you”ll get into trouble.
Judge: “You can only go on appeal, Mr Jacobs. Your mode of advocacy, I do not understand it, it looks like what do they call it?…Jankara market.
Judge: “You stand here to reevaluate my ruling, you are incompetent to do that. You do not stand there with impetus and reevaluate my ruling. I have ruled,
relying on two Sections of the Evidence Act, if you have an objection, you go on appeal. You have no competence, carrying your wig with arogance and we have a lot of young lawyers here. What kind of thing are you teaching them? To stand up to a judge and reevaluate the ruling of a judge? It will not happen in my court. You re-examine your witness; if you are not re-examining, then close your case.
Jacobs: “My Lord, I did not refer your lordship to your lordship’s ruling. I never said a word about your lordship’s ruling.
Judge: “I do not take tangential comments here. You are fond of doing that. You are an extremely rude senior advocate. If you are a senior advocate, you are not older than me at the Bar and you are not older than me in age. In Yoruba land, we respect age and in this job, we have what they call professional ethics and respect for each other.
Jacobs: “That is what I have offered my lord.
Judge:” You have not offered it.
Jacobs: “But For my lord to say that I am Jankara practice lawyer…
Judge: “Yes, I am saying it, if we finish here, you can write a petition to the NJC.
Jacobs: “No court has ever told me I engage in Jankara practice. My Lord, I’ve been on this job for a while.
Judge: “I do not want to know.”
Jacobs: “No judge has ever called me a Jankara lawyer.
Judge: “How many years have you spent?”
Jacobs: “I take exception to that word, Jankara. No judge can tell me that I am involved in Jankara practice.
Judge: “Now, are you re-examining your witness?
Jacobs: “Yes, I am. But I take exception to that word, Jankara practice. I take full exception to it. I do my job according to my conscience; according to what God told me. I will never pervert the course of justice; I will never call any man to come here and lie against another person. I fear God. But for one to supress justice, I will fight against it till date, till end”.
Fayose was on 22nd October, 2018, arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside his company, Spotless Limited, on an 11-count charge of alleged N3.3 billion fraud before Justice Olatoregun.
He, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge and was subsequently admitted to bail in the sum of N50 million with one surety in like sum.
According to the charge, on 17th June, 2014, Fayose and one, Abiodun Agbele, were said to have taken possession of the sum of N1.2 billion, for purposes of funding his gubernatorial election campaign in Ekiti State, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.
Fayose was alleged to have received a cash payment of the sum of $5 million (about N1.8 billion) from a former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, without going through any financial institution and which sum exceeded the amount allowed by law.
He was also alleged to have retained the sum of N300 million in his bank account and took control of the aggregate sums of about N622 million which sum he ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.
The former governor was also alleged to have procured De Privateer Ltd and Still Earth Ltd, to retain the aggregate sums of N851 million in his bank account which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.
Besides, the accused was alleged to have used the aggregate sums of about N1.6 billion to acquire property in Lagos and Abuja, which sums he reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.
The accused was also alleged to have used the sum of N200 million, to acquire a property in Abuja, in the name of his elder sister Moji Oladeji, which sum he ought to know also forms crime proceeds.
The offences contravenes the provisions of sections 15(1), 15 (2), 15 (3), 16(2)(b), 16 (d), and 18 (c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.