Former Managing Director of the defunct Finbank Plc, Mr. Okey Nwosu, and three former directors of the bank have told an Ikeja High Court that they would need more time to open their defence, to enable them access some documents vital for their defence.
Nwosu and the three directors, Dayo Famoroti, Danjuma Ocholi and Agnes Ebubedike made this submission yesterday at the resumed trial of the alleged N10.9 billion theft case before Justice Lateef Okunnu.
Nwosu and his co-defendants are facing a 26-count charge bordering on stealing of N10.9 billion preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
They were first arraigned before the court in 2010 while their trial progressed until December 2011 following an application challenging jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charges preferred against them by the EFCC.
The defendants appealed to the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, which in its ruling delivered November 21, 2013 set aside the ruling of the lower court and held that it had no jurisdiction over capital market-related issues which it added can only be prosecuted at a federal court.
The EFCC however, appealed to the Supreme Court which July 1 last year set aside the ruling of the appellate court and ordered that the case should be sent back to the Lagos State Chief Judge for expeditious trial.
At yesterday’s proceedings, the defendants through their lawyers sought the leave of the court to subpoena witnesses to testify in the trial.
Nwosu’s counsel, Mr. N.K Oragbwu, told the court that the defence are facing challenges getting witnesses to testify as well as accessing relevant documents for their defence.
“The challenges we are currently facing my Lord is that we need a subpoena from court to bring witnesses to court as well also to produce the documents needed for our defence.
“Ever since the removal of the defendants from the bank, they have no access to bank documents and as a result, a subpoena will be required to obtain those documents.
“We request an adjournment to properly prepare our defence before this court.
“This is not to cause delay as we currently have one witness here today before the court,” Oragbwu said.
EFCC counsel, Mr. Adebisi Adeniyi, however objected to Oragbwu’s request for an adjournment stating that it was a delay tactic to stall the trial.
“We are of the respectful view that this application for adjournment is designed and intended to further frustrate the expeditious trial of this case as directed by the Supreme Court.
“We were here last week and the first defendant knew he would be applying for witness summons and he made no sufficient efforts.
“Trial dates have been picked since Nov. 2016, for a defendant interested in pursuing a case diligently, that was enough time for a witness to apply for witness summons.
“The application is not in good faith, he can start with the witness that we have in court and if there are documents to be tendered to the witness, he should apply for documents at that stage.
Also, counsel to Famoroti, Mr. Seyi Sowemimo (SAN), lamented the fact that a lot of challenges are being faced getting hold of documents to aid their defence.
“Ever since the defendants were removed from the bank in 2009, a lot of people who were in the bank are no longer working there.
“It is difficult getting access to board papers, the company secretary who was there are the time is no longer available.
“The assumption that our request for an adjournment is a delay tactic is unfair, the EFCC have easier access to documents than the defendants.” Sowemimo said.
Counsel to Ocholi, Mr. Lanre Ogunlesi (SAN), also pleaded with the court for more time to prepare adequately for defence.
“The wheel of justice grinds slowly but surely, the impression that will be given is that the defendants were stampeded into trial and I trust this court that that will not be the case.
“The third defendant (Ocholi) is unwell and i had to force him to appear in court today by telling him that the fear of this court is the beginning of wisdom.” Ogunlesi said.
In her short ruling on the applications, Justice Okunnu acceded to the requests for more time from the defendants.
“Although the defendants had three months to prepare for defence, witness summons and subpoenas are necessary for the trial.
“I will, however, bend over backwards so that justice will be seen to be done”, the judge ruled.
The judge therefore adjourned the case to February 14 to 16 for continuation of trial.