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The scheduled arraignment of the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, Chief Cletus Ibeto on Tuesday evening suffered another setback, following move by the office of the Lagos State Attorney-General to take over prosecution of a N4.8 billion fraud case from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Eastern Updates gathered that EFCC had planned to arraign Ibeto, alongside his companies, Ibeto Energy Development Company and Odoh Holdings Limited, over alleged N4.8 billion fraud on four occasions, September 28, October 5, November 3, and November 15.
The defendant, however, had been absent in court, although his lawyers represented him.
Sequel to failure of the defendant to appear in court to take his plea, the trial Justice, Ismail Ijelu of a Lagos High Court, Ikeja, had, on November 3, 2023, issued a bench warrant for arrest of the defendant, despite undertakings by his lawyers to produce him in court.
At the resumed proceeding, yesterday, the office of the Lagos State Attorney-General announced it would take over the prosecution. The state’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Jide Martins, told the court that the AG considered the move based on a petition written by the defendant.
Counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), said taking over prosecution of the case by the Lagos AG is an attempt to scuttle the trial. The anti-graft agency had slammed a 10-count charge of the defendant bordering on allegations of conspiracy, fraud, forgery and fraudulent use of documents.
Earlier, Martins informed the court of a petition written by the law firm of Robert Clarke (SAN) seeking review of the case file and 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 had written to the EFCC requesting the case file, the AG had 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.
He 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 but allow for a reasonable time for the State to decide.”
While responding to his submission, Jacobs pointed out to the court that four different lawyers had been engaged by the defendant “allegedly in his efforts to scuttle hearing of the case.
‘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 of the 1999 Constitution limits the State AG to the takeover of state 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.’
After listening to them, Justice Ijelu, in a bench ruling, said the business of the court was for arraignment of the defendant, 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 held that the court had considered all submissions made by the lawyers, and it was of the view that the issue of representation by the prosecutor on record and that of the AG had become an issue and had to be resolved. Ijelu, therefore, adjourned the case till January 29, 2024, for the resolution of representation and prosecution of the defendants.