A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who is being tried for an alleged fraud of N4.9bn, has lost the bid to have the case transferred from Lagos to Abuja.
The trial judge, Justice Rilwan Aikawa, of the Federal High Court in Lagos in a ruling on Tuesday dismissed Fani-Kayode’s transfer application for lacking in merit.
Contrary to arguments by Fani-Kayode’s lawyer, Mr. Norrison Quakers (SAN), that the cause of action leading to the case took place in Abuja, the judge observed that parts of the alleged illegal transactions by Fani-Kayode leading to the charge took place in Lagos.
Justice Aikawa noted, for instance, the allegation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that Fani-Kayode paid N30m cash to a printer, Olusegun Idowu, whose office is at Igbosere on Lagos Island.
Besides, the judge noted that based on Fani-Kayode’s request, the immediate-past Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, had earlier transferred the case from Justice Muslim Hassan of the same court to the present judge, who is also in Lagos.
Justice Aikawa held that if the CJ had found merit in the request to transfer the case from Lagos to Abuja, he would have done it after Justice Hassan withdrew from the case rather than transfer it to another judge in Lagos.
Justice Aikawa held, “I am of the view that based on the facts and circumstances of this case, there is no justification for the transfer of this case to Abuja. The application lacks merit and is hereby dismissed.”
Fani-Kayode’s lawyer, Quakers, had argued that the facts of the case showed that all the transactions, which his client carried out as the Director of Media and Publicity of the Goodluck Jonathan Campaign Organisation, for which he was charged, took place in Abuja.
Besides, Quakers said Fani-Kayode was based in Abuja and had another fraud trial there, urging the court to transfer the case to Abuja for convenience.
But in opposition to Quakers, the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, maintained that Fani-Kayode should be tried in Lagos because the instruments of the alleged illegal transactions for which he was being tried, including cheques and receipts, “were recovered in Lagos.”
“The financial institutions used in the transactions have their head offices in Lagos,” Oyedepo argued.
He also pointed out to the judge that 13 out of the prosecution’s 17 witnesses live in Lagos, adding that Fani-Kayode’s application was a mere ploy to frustrate the case.
Oyedepo informed Justice Aikawa that Fani-Kayode had earlier raised the same issue before Justice Hassan, to whom the case was first assigned.
“After Justice Hassan withdrew from the case based on Fani-Kayode’s claim that he would not get justice before the judge, the then CJ, Justice Auta, did not transfer the case to Abuja but re-assigned it to Justice Aikawa of the same court.
“The consequence of the alleged offence of money laundering is not limited to Abuja, but to the entire federation”.
Justice Aikawa, in his ruling on Tuesday, upheld the arguments of the EFCC lawyer.
In another ruling, the judge also admitted in evidence the receipts issued to the Goodluck Jonathan Campaign Organisation by the printer, Idowu, for a cash transaction of N30m.
The case was adjourned till Wednesday for continuation of trial.
Fani-Kayode is standing trial for the alleged N4.9bn fraud alongside former Minister of State for Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman; who was listed as the one defendant in the charge; one Danjuma Yusuf and a company, Joint Trust Dimensions Limited.
The 17 counts pressed against them bordered 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 the others to directly and indirectly retain various sums, which the EFCC claimed they ought to have reasonably known were proceeds of crime.
In one of the counts, the defendants were accused of conspiring among themselves to “indirectly retain the sum of N1,500, 000,000.00 which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful act to wit: stealing.”
The four were also accused of indirectly retaining N300m, N400m and N800m, all proceeds of corruption, according to the EFCC.
EFCC said they allegedly committed the offence between January 8 and March 25, 2015 ahead of the 2015 general election.
But the defendants pleaded not guilty.
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