Alleged N950m Fraud: Court Orders Arraignment of Ex-Punch Worker, Ogunbanjo, Others

Funke Olaode

An Ikeja Special Offences Court has ruled that a former employee of Punch Newspapers Ltd., Olusegun Ogunbanjo and others, charged with N950 million fraud be produced for arraignment.

Other defendants in the suit marked ID/21559C/2023 are Olawunmi Ogunbanjo, Vaneloo International Ltd., Valeco Global Ventures, Bagco Garba, Taofeek Ogunbanjo, Ifeanyi Odogwu, Bound Media Ltd., and Godwin Benson.

Justice Ismail Ijelu in his ruling said the court had thoroughly examined the information and proof of evidence in the case and formed the view that its jurisdiction to entertain the case was absolutely intact.

Ijelu said the applicant/defendant’s objection was unmeritorious as he failed  to establish that the prosecution in the case engaged in improper use of judicial process to interfere with the efficient and effective administration of justice.

According to him, the court has been empowered to make restraining order such as interim order which has an effect of freezing  the property, thereby preventing the suspect from dealing with proceeds of crime by him or a third party on his behalf, pending the determination of the case.

The judge said an abuse in criminal cases would result if after filing the same charge in different courts, the prosecution began trials in all of them simultaneously, without discontinuing one or the other.

He said it was so because the attorney general had the discretion as to which court a defendant was to be prosecuted.

“The fact that he chooses to file information at the high court when a matter is pending at a Magistrate’s Court, does not amount to abuse of court process, as the charge at the magistrate court has been technically discontinued upon filing information at the high court, on similar facts against the defendant.

“The fact that the defendant/applicant filed a fundamental right action at the federal high court does not mean that a criminal action can not be proceeded.

“In fact, it can proceed simultaneously and fundamental rights action cannot  used to shield a person against criminal prosecution.

“The applicant’s ground that no proof of evidence or hearing notice was served on him is of no moment as the court has the power to grant interim forfeiture ex-parte even in the absence of the charge,” he said.

The judge further said that publication was made to the member of the public including the first defendant which was done within 14 days, but that the first defendant did not  obey the order.

“There is nothing before the court to show compliance by the defendant. Rather to comply with the order of the court, he chose to challenge the jurisdiction of the court.

“This court has thoroughly examined the information and proof of evidence in this case and formed the view that its jurisdiction to entertain this case is absolutely intact.

“The objection of the first defendant is hereby overruled and he and other defendants shall be produced in court to take their plea,” he said.

Counsel to the first defendant/applicant, Mr Charles Jiakponna, had challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case.

The Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Dr Babajide Martins, in his 11-paragraph counter-affidavit had prayed the court to dismiss the preliminary objection. He said that the objection  lacked merit.

 Ogunbanjo had been arraigned before a Sabo-Yaba Chief Magistrates’ Court on March  10, 2023, for the alleged N950 million fraud.

Magistrate Adeola Olatubosun had granted him  bail in the sum of N10 million with two sureties in like sum, following his “not guilty” plea to the three-count charge of obtaining by false pretences, forgery and stealing.

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