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Alleged N4.8bn Fraud: Moves To Take Over Ibeto’s Prosecution Opposed, EFCC Tells Court

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has informed Justice Ismail Ijelu of a Lagos High Court, Ikeja, that it is opposing the intention of the Lagos State Government (LASG), to take over the prosecution of the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, Chief Cletus Ibeto.

This is even as the planned arraignment of Chief Ibeto, again, failed.

With the development, this would be the fourth time Ibeto’s planned arraignment had failed, as the defendant again failed to appear before the judge.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Uche Obi, who appeared for the business mogul, hinted to Justice Ijelu that an issue of legal representation had arisen following moves by the office of the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice to take over the prosecution of the case.

But counsel for the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) described the move as “an attempt to scuttle the trial.”

It would be recalled that the anti-graft agency had charged the defendant before the court alongside his companies, Ibeto Energy Development Company and Odoh Holdings Ltd, on a 10-count charge bordering on allegations of conspiracy, fraud, forgery, and fraudulent use of documents.

But as a result of Ibeto’s failure to appear in court on four different occasions, Justice Ijelu at the last sitting of November 3, acceded to the request of the prosecution and issued a bench warrant against the defendant for allegedly refusing to appear to take his plea despite many undertakings by his lawyers to produce him in court. This prompted Justice Ijelu to adjourn the case until December 5, for the arraignment of the defendant.

However, during the proceedings on the matter, the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Jide Martins, informed the court of a petition written by the law firm of another SAN, Robert Clarke, seeking a review of the case file and the outright takeover of the case by the office of the Attorney-General (AG).

The DPP further told the court that although the Ministry of Justice had written to the EFCC, requesting the case file, the AG, Lawal Pedro, SAN, had yet to decide on the issue.

As a result, the defence counsel, Obi, urged the court to adjourn the case until the issue of legal representation is resolved.

The SAN further hinted to Justice Ijelu that the defendant is currently in the United States (US) for a life-threatening ailment, just as he submitted a letter from the doctor to that effect.

In reacting, the EFCC lawyer, Jacobs, argued that four different lawyers have been engaged by the defendant, allegedly in his efforts to scuttle the hearing of the case.

Jacobs stated, “This is not a case that the Lagos State Attorney-General can take over because the main counts of the charge are on federal laws.

“Section 211 limits the State AG to the takeover of state offences and this power cannot be extended to Section 174 which involves federal offences.

“The Attorney-General’s letter to this court was written without hearing from us and the purpose was to shield the defendant from appearing before this court and when he is seized of the whole matter, he would change his mind.”

The SAN equally informed the judge that following the bench warrant issued by the court, the EFCC visited the Ikoyi office of the defendant, but could not apprehend him.

“We also visited his house up to three times before we heard that he sneaked out of the country. Then they reported the matter to the AGF who invited me to brief him on the facts of the case and after the briefing, he gave the EFCC the go-ahead to proceed.

“A petition against this case by another of the defendant’s lawyers, Ikpeazu dated 15th November was also sent to the EFCC Chairman stating the grounds of their preliminary objection which is before the court,” Jacobs added.

After entertaining arguments from lawyers, Justice Ijelu adjourned the case until January 29, 2024, for the resolution of representation and prosecution of the defendant.

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