Ade Adesomoju and Ramon Oladimeji
The ongoing trial of a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, and two others for an alleged fraud of N4.9bn was stalled on Monday due to Fani-Kayode’s absence before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Standing trial with Fani-Kayode are a former Minister of State for Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman; one Danjuma Yusuf and a company, Joint Trust Dimensions Limited.
While both Usman and Yusuf were in court on Monday for the trial, Fani-Kayode was absent.
His lawyer, Mr. Wale Balogun, informed the presiding judge, Justice Muslim Hassan, that his client was unable to come to court because he was in Kuje Prisons in Abuja as of Monday morning.
Balogun informed the court that Fani-Kayode was taken to Kuje Prisons on the order of Justice John Tsoho of the Abuja Division of the court, where he was arraigned on November 5, 2016, for a different alleged fraud of N26m by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Balogun said, “As of this morning, the second defendant (Fani-Kayode) has been transferred to Kuje Prison in Abuja.
“The defendant’s family and friends are making all efforts to secure his release by perfecting the bail. But up till now, they have not been able to do that.
“In view of this, My Lord, unfortunately we are helpless. His not being here is not due to his will; he would have loved to be here to continue his trial.”
Balogun, however, accused the EFCC of engaging in lawlessness, telling the court that the operatives of the anti-graft agency arrested Fani-Kayode on October 21 on the premises of the court in Lagos after he had attended his trial before Justice Hassan.
He said his client was re-arrested despite the fact that Justice Hassan had granted him bail.
“We condemn in strong terms the style of the prosecution; it’s not in line with international best practices. The lawlessness cries to the high heavens.
“It is because of their action that we are not able to proceed today. My Lord should construe this as a slap on the honour of this court,” Balogun said.
But the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, said the re-arrest of Fani-Kayode by the EFCC could not be interpreted as a violation of Justice Hassan’s order because he was re-arrested in connection with another alleged offence.
He said, “The subsequent arrest and detention of the second defendant, with the view of serving him charges and presenting him before Justice Tsoho for his arraignment, was not intended to disrespect Your Lordship’s order because he was not subsequently arrested in connection with this case. I urge Your Lordship not to be angry with the prosecution.”
Oyedepo urged the court to grant a short adjournment as the trial could not proceed in Fani-Kayode’s absence.
In their responses, Usman’s lawyer, Mr. Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), and the counsel for the third and fourth defendants, Mr. S. I. Ameh (SAN), urged the court to condemn the re-arrest of Fani-Kayode.
After listening to the parties, Justice Hassan fixed December 12, 2016, for the continuation of the trial.
Meanwhile, Usman’s lawyer, Orbih, informed the court of a pending application by his client seeking the separation of her trial from that of Fani-Kayode and Yusuf and for her case to be transferred from Lagos to Abuja.
“We have an application dated November 11, 2016. We are praying for the severance of the charges against the defendants. As a matter of fact, the situation we found ourselves underscores the need for this application.
“We are also asking that the matter be transferred from Lagos to Abuja,” Orbih said.
He urged the court to hear the application on the next adjourned date.
But Oyedepo argued that the application could not stop the trial that was already in progress.
Fani-Kayode, Usman and Yusuf were arraigned on 17 counts on June 29, 2016.
The charges against them border on conspiracy, unlawful retention of proceeds of theft and money laundering.
Fani-Kayode, who was the Director of Publicity of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential campaign organisation for the 2015 election, was accused of conspiring with others to directly and indirectly retain various sums, which the EFCC claimed they ought to have reasonably known were proceeds of crime.
Meanwhile, the authorities of the Kuje Prisons in Abuja on Thursday released Fani- Kayode after the ex-minister met the conditions attached to the N50m bail imposed on him last Thursday by a Federal High Court in Abuja.
Fani-Kayode confirmed to judicial correspondents on the premises of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday that he was released from prison shortly after he met the bail conditions on Monday morning.
Fani-Kayode had pleaded not guilty to all the five counts when he was arraigned on Friday by the EFCC.
The EFCC accused the defendant of diverting N26m allegedly received from the Office of the National Security Adviser while Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) was in the office.
The EFCC also accused him of handling the said N26m without going through any financial institution as required under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
Justice Tsoho adjourned till December 14 for the commencement of trial. (Punchng.com)