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$500,000 BRIBERY: CJ returns Lawan’s case allegedly transferred illegally



$500,000 BRIBERY: CJ returns Lawan’s case allegedly transferred illegally

The $500,000 bribery case involving a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Farouk Lawan, which was allegedly transferred illegally from Justice Angela Otaluka to Justice Yusuf Halilu, has been returned for the former presiding judge for continuation of trial.

The Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, was accused of illegally transferring the case to Justice Halilu from Justice Otaluka, who had heard the case almost half-way before the abrupt transfer of the cast last year June.

Justice Bello had following a petition by Lawan, an ex-chairman of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on investigation into fuel subsidy regime in 2012, transferred the case from Justice Otaluka, who is of the Lugbe Division of the FCT High Court, to Justice Halilu of the Jabi Division.

Before the case was transferred to Halilu, the prosecution had already called four out of its five proposed witnesses.

Not comfortable with the development, the lead prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), had, though a motion filed before Justice Halilu, challenged the transfer of the case, describing the Chief Judge’s action as illegal. He prayed the court to return the matter to the former judge.

But Justice Halilu in a ruling he delivered on October 17, 2017, sacked the Federal Government’s application for the return of the case to the former trial judge.

The Federal Government following Justice Halilu’s ruling, filed a notice of appeal hinged on three grounds and subsequently an appellant’s brief against the ruling.

Counsel to the Federal Government, Awomolo, in the appeal argued that the transfer of the part-heard case, which was nearing conclusion before Justice Otaluka, to Justice Halilu, was not only wrong but illegal.

According to him, the Chief Judge acted without jurisdiction and in contravention of the provisions of Section 98(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.

However, before the Federal Government’s appeal could be heard, it appeared the Chief Judge returned the case to Justice Otaluka for continuation of trial.

The development was confirmed on Monday when the case came up before Justice Otaluka as the trial judge.

During the Monday court proceeding, the prosecution, represented by Mrs. Victoria Awomolo (SAN), told Justice Otaluka that they only got the hearing notice for the day’s proceedings last Thursday.

She said that the development did not afford them enough time to prepare for the Monday’s proceedings, the prosecution witness, who was testifying in the witness box before the case was transferred.

A serving member of the House of Representatives and the Chairman of the House Committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes in the 2011-2015 legislative session, Mr. Adams Jagaba, last testified in the case on May 10, 2017.

Jagaba had concluded his evidence-in-chief but was still being cross-examined by Lawan’s lead counsel, Chief Mike Ozehome (SAN), when the case was transferred.

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But Ozekhome’s law firm, on Monday, distanced itself from the defendant’s petition which caused the Chief Judge to reassign the case to another judge.

Representing the law firm in court, Mr. Nkem Okoro, told the judge that had the chambers been aware of Lawan’s intention to write the petition, they would have discouraged him from doing so.

Nonetheless, he urged the judge to willingly withdraw from the case so that the thought of the petition would not taint her eventual decision in the case.

The prosecuting counsel, responding, maintained that the defence’s latest application lacked legal basis, adding that a judge could only withdraw from a case based on a legally-founded reason.

Justice Otaluka agreed with the prosecution and adjourned the case till February 15 for further cross-examination of Jagaba.

The Federal Government, through the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, is prosecuting Lawan on amended four counts of corrupt collection of $500,000 out of the $3m bribe he allegedly requested from the chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd., Mr. Femi Otedola.

Lawan was accused of accepting $500,000 as bribe for the removal of Otedola’s company’s name, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd., from the list of firms indicted by the Lawan-led House committee for allegedly abusing the fuel subsidy regime in 2012.



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