The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has set aside the ruling of a Federal High Court that cleared a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon, Adeyemi Ikuforiji and his Personal Assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi of allegations of money laundering.
The appellate court in a unanimous judgment set aside the verdict of the trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, holding that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had established a prima facie case against the former Speaker to require him to enter a defence to the charge brought against him.
The court, in the lead judgment delivered by Justice Biobela Georgewill, also ordered that the trial should start afresh before another judge of the Federal High Court in Lagos other than Justice Buba in the light of the far-reaching findings already made by him.
Other members of the three-man panel are: Justice Side Dauda Bage and Justice Ugochukwu Ogakwu.
Justice Buba on September 26, 2014, discharged Ikuforiji, Atoyebi of a 56 count charge of conspiracy and laundering the sum of N500 million belonging to the assembly, offences which according to the EFCC, contravened sections 15 (1d) and 16(1d) of Money Laundry Act, MLA, 2004 and 2011.
The judge, who discharged the Speaker and Atoyebi, while ruling on a no-case submission filed by the duo, held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against the accused persons and also failed to prove any of the ingredients of the crime of money laundering.
But dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC through its counsel, Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), in the notice of appeal dated September 30, 2014 asked the Court of Appeal to hold that Justice Buba erred in law, when he held and concluded that counts 2-48 are incompetent, because they were filed pursuant to Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 which said law was repealed by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
The EFCC further argued that the lower court erred in law, when it held that the provision of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011 only applies to natural persons and corporate bodies other than government; like the office of the Speaker of the state assembly.
The commission also submitted that the trial judge erred in law when it held and concluded that the case of the prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondent.
Justice Georgewill in his lead judgment held that the offences created by Section 1 of the MLA 2004 and 2011 respectively are strict liability offences and that their proof does not depend on the approval and purposes the money was used for, once the amount is above the threshold amount and was not paid or received through a financial institution either by an individual or a body corporate.
He said: “Regrettably, the court below went on a voyage of its own, discussing cash payment of million made to the Super Eagles in Brazil, even without any scintilla of evidence before it, instead of remaining focused on the issue at hand.
“Does the fact that all persons likely to have committed a particular alleged offence had not been prosecuted a reason for the court to decline jurisdiction of one of them being prosecuted? Certainly not.
“I consider many of the issues raised so randomly by the court below as irrelevant and inconsequential to the just determination of the question before it, which is, whether the appellant made out a prima facie case against the respondents or not.
“Very worrisome to me, is the attitude of the court below, considering between the decision of this court and its own decision on which one to follow, even when its attention was called to the decision of this court.
“I find this attitude quite bizarre and not in sync with judicial attitude toward the time honoured doctrine of stare decisis. It is pure rascality, impertinence and disregard for judicial hierarchy in this country.
“In the light of my finding above, I have no difficulty resolving the sole issue for determination in the negative against the respondents in favour of the appellant and I hold firmly therefore, that the appeal has merit and ought to be allowed . The ruling of the lower court is hereby set aside,” Justice Georgewill held.