A former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Ikuforiji Sabit Adeyemi, and his personal assistant, Olabode Alade Atoyebi, have filed an appeal at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, challenging a Court of Appeal judgment that recently ordered their re-trial on money laundering charges.
In their separate notices of appeal, the duo’s lawyer, Barrister Abiodun Onidare, is urging the Supreme Court to set aside the whole ruling of the Appeal Court. In their filings, the former Speaker and his aide described the Appeal Court's decision as unreasonable and unwarranted, adding that the evidence on record could not support the verdict.
Consequently, both Mr. Ikuforiji and Mr. Oyebode want the Supreme Court to uphold their no-case submissions upheld on September 26, 2014 by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos.
In their notice, the appellants stated that they would file more grounds of appeal once they receive the certified true copy of the judgment given by the Court of Appeal.
The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal had recently set aside Justice Buba’s ruling discharging the former Speaker and his aide of a 56-count charge of conspiracy and the laundering the sum of N500 million belonging to the state legislature. The initial charges stated that the offenses violated sections 15 (1d) and 16(1d) of the Money Laundering Act (MLA) 2004 and 2011.
In a unanimous decision, the appellate court set aside Justice Buba’s verdict, holding that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had established a prima facie case against the former Speaker and his personal assistant to require them to enter a defense to the charges brought against them.
In the judgment delivered by Justice Biobela Georgewill, on behalf of the Justices Side Dauda Bage and Ugochukwu Ogakwu, the appellate court also ordered that the trial of the accused legislator and his aide should start afresh before another judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos other than Justice Buba.
Earlier, Justice Buba, in a controversial ruling that discharged the Speaker and his aide, held that the EFCC had failed to establish a prima-facie case against the accused persons. He added that the EFCC had not provided proof of any of the ingredients of the crime of money laundering.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC’s counsel, Godwin Obla, filed an appeal dated September 30, 2014 asking the Court of Appeal to hold that Justice Buba erred in law when he held that most of the counts in the indictment were incompetent. Mr. Obla explained that the charges were filed in accord with Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, a law that was repealed by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011. The EFCC also argued that the lower court erred in law when it held that the provision of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011 only applies to natural persons and corporate bodies other than the government, like the office of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
The EFCC also submitted that the trial judge erred by ruling that the case of the prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondents.
In his ruling, Justice Georgewill held that the offenses created by Section 1 of the MLA 2004 and 2011 respectively are strict liability offences, adding that the proof does not depend on the approval and purposes the money was used for. He added that the indictment would be valid once the amount involved was above a certain threshold amount and was not paid or received through a financial institution either by an individual or a body corporate.