Court rules on EFCC, Ibori suit today

AFTER having suffered four adjournments, ruling is expected to be delivered this morning by the Federal High Court, Asaba on the application filed by Chief James Ibori seeking to strike out the 170-count charge filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Already there is general apprehension about the outcome of the ruling if it eventually holds.

Presiding Judge, Justice Marcel Awokulehin, who had been embattled following petitions over the matter had maintained that some undisclosed issues that came up during the trial forced him to adjourn the ruling.

The case, which was instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against Chief James Ibori, resumed de novo on the 27th of April this year before the newly created Federal High Court, Asaba.

The fresh trial was ordered by the Court of Appeal, Kaduna, in a 21-page judgment delivered December 19 2008, nullifying all proceedings that had taken place before Justice Lawal Shuaibu of the Federal High Court, Kaduna.

At the commencement of the fresh trial, the court  which was supposed to have taken plea from the accused persons in the suit before Justice Marcel Awokulehin  did not do so due to the absence of the second accused, Okoronkwo, thereby stalling proceedings. But Ibori and the third accused, Chiedu Ebie, were present that day in court.

The parties are the Federal Republic of Nigeria and James Ibori, Udoamaka Okoronkwo, Chiedu Ebie, MER Engineering Nigeria limited, IBAINENOX Limited and SAGICON Nigeria Limited.

Following the absence of the second accused, counsel to the EFCC, Ibrahim Isiyaku (SAN) told the court that since the matter was a criminal one, there was the need for the second accused who was allowed by the court to travel out of the country, to be present in court.

Along the line, precisely on the 28th of July, 2009, Ibori brought an application to quash the charges.

Ibori’s lawyers had argued that “no prima facie case has been established against any of the accused persons and none of the accused persons have been charged even with any act of criminality”.

But replying, Mr. Ibrahim Isiyaku SAN, EFCC’s lead counsel said the Commission was fully prepared to go on with the case, saying “this is not a corruption trial or misappropriation of state funds. All the accused persons are charged for money laundering and there is a specific legislation for money laundering.

“A unique characteristic of the Money Laundering Act of 2003 or 2004”, he went on, “is that it envisages a predicate offence and in section 14 (1) of the Money Laundering Act 2003/2004, the opening sentence there criminalizes any person who transfers money gotten from narcotic, illegal act or any other crime. The illegal act also presupposes that it must also be a criminal act”, he insisted.