EFCC Opposes Move By Lagos AG To Take Over Ibeto’s Prosecution

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has described the move by the office of the Lagos State Attorney-General to take over the prosecution of the N4.8 billion fraud case filed against the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, Chief Cletus Ibeto, as an attempt to scuttle the trial.

The counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), made this claim before the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja after the state’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Jide Martins, told the trial judge, Justice Ismail Ijelu, that the AG is considering taking over the matter based on a petition written by the defendant.

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

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However, the planned arraignment of the defendant has been stalled on three occasions, September 28, October 5 and November 3, due to his failure to appear in court, although his lawyers represented him.

This prompted Justice Ijelu to accede to the prosecution’s request on November 3, 2023, to order the Arrest of the businessman for allegedly refusing to appear to take his plea despite many undertakings by his lawyers to produce him in court.

However, at the resumed hearing of the matter on Tuesday, Martins informed the court of a petition written by the law firm of Robert Clarke (SAN) seeking a review of the case file and the outright taking over of the case by the office of the Attorney-General.

The DPP further told the court that although the Ministry of Justice has written to the EFCC requesting the case file, the AG has not decided on the issue.

Based on the development, the defence counsel, Uche Obi (SAN), urged the court to adjourn the case until the issue of legal representation is resolved.

Obi said, “An issue of legal representation has just arisen in court this morning. The learned DPP has asked for an opportunity to reappraise the complainant’s complaint, and the State has to be given a chance to take that decision. It appears that nothing else can be done today (Tuesday) but to allow for a reasonable time for the State to decide.

But in his reaction, Jacobs pointed out to the judge that four different lawyers had been engaged by the defendant “allegedly in his efforts to scuttle the hearing of the case.”

He also submitted, “This is not a case that the Lagos State Attorney-General can take over because the primary counts of the charge are based on Federal laws.

“Section 211 limits the State AG to the takeover of state’s offences, and this power cannot be extended to Section 174, which is on federal crimes.

“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 will change his mind,” the senior lawyer stated.

In his ruling, Justice Ijelu noted that the business of the court was for the arraignment of the defendants and that the prosecutor had told the court that the bench warrant could not be enforced because the defendant was out of the country.

He also noted that the defence counsel had informed the court that the defendant was in Dallas, United States of America, for a life-threatening ailment.

The judge, however, held that the court has considered all submissions made by the lawyers, and it is of the view that the issue of representation by the prosecutor on record and that of the AG has become an issue and has to be resolved.

Justice Ijelu, therefore, adjourned the case to January 29, 2024, for the resolution of representation and prosecution of the defendant.

17th April 2024
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