Lukman Olabiyi, Lagos
Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of the Federal High Court, Lagos will on January 16 decide whether or not to return the case file of the money laundering charge against a lawyer to former Vice president Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, Uyiekpen Giwa-Osagie, to the Chief Judge of the court.
Justice Aneke fixed the date after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) raised objections to the transfer of the case from Justice Chuka Obiozor to his court.
Uyiepken, a senior counsel in a law firm, Africa Law Practices (ALP), and his younger brother, Erhunse, are facing allegation of laundering the sum of $2 million.
They were first arraigned before Justice Nicholas Oweibo on August 14, 2019 during the court’s annual vacation on three-count charge of conspiracy and money laundering.
The had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
After the court resumed from the vacation, they were re-arraigned before Justice Chuka Obiozor on the same charge.
But when their trial was about to commenced before the new judge, their lawyers, Ahmed Raji and Norrison Quakers, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), brought an application seeking to consolidate the charge with that of Atiku’s son-in-law, Abdullahi Babalele, who is being tried before Justice Aneke’s court for similar offences.
Babalele is also standing trial for allegedly laundered the sum of $140,000.
Giwa-Osagies’ lawyer had told Justice Obiozor that a letter had been written to the Court’s Chief Registrar, for the consolidation of the charge with Babalele.
After their plea were taken, Justice Obiozor, returned the case file to the court’s registry and it was subsequently reassigned to Justice Aneke.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Tuesday, the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, informed the court that his attention was drawn to the application written to the Administrative Judge by Osagie-Giwas’ counsel for the consolidation of their charge with that of Babalele.
Oyedepo stated that his commission is protesting such consolidation.
The lawyer said, “we are protesting that. We have written a letter to Honourable Chief Judge for reassignment of the case to the former judge.
“There is nothing connecting the case pending before this court and his case. It is going to be a dangerous things if we allow this to happened.
“During the vacation, two cases were assigned to Justice Obiozor, this one and that of Professor Maurice Iwu, but they were transferred.”
Oyedepo also told the court that a letter has been written to the court’s Chief Judge by the Commission, to reassign the charge back to Justice Obiozor.
He urged the court to adjourn the matter so that it can be reassigned to the former judge.
Responding, the defence counsel, Quakers, described Oyedepo’s statement as “offensive and out of tune”.
He said: “I find the statement of the prosecutor a bit offensive and put of tune.
“The court will recall that the matter was transfered based on rule of court and by the Administrative Judge, who in his wisdom transfered the matter based on the connection in the prove of evidence served on us.
“Having consolidated the two charges, all the counsel have to come before this court.”
Quakers (SAN) also told the court that the prosecution has not presented any thing before the court challenging the transfer of the charge.
He urged the court to discountenance the prosecutor’s argument for the request for adjournment.
Responding on point of law, the EFCC lawyer cited section 89 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which he said the decision cited by the defendants’ counsel does not nexus with.
He said “the charge has no nexus, the transfer is not in the interest of justice, no panel was constituted and I wasn’t invited to any panel.
“I urged the court to return the case file to the Chief Judge for reassignment to the former judge.”
Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke, after listening to the lawyers, adjourned till Thursday, January 16, for ruling.
The Osagie-Giwa brothers were dragged before the court wherein they were both alleged to have on February 12, 2019, conspired among themselves and made cash payments of the sum of $2 million without going through financial institutions.
Uyiekpen was alleged to have procured his brother, Erhunse, to make the cash payment of the said sum without recourse to financial institutions.
The offences according to the the EFCC contravened 18(c), 18(a), 1(a), 16(1), (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, as amended and punishable under Section 16, 16(2)(b)16(2)(b) of the same Act.