BY OLUGBENGA SOYELE, Lagos
A mild drama yesterday occurred before the Federal High Court in Lagos as two lawyers fought over who to represent four companies that pleaded guilty to laundering $15.5million allegedly belonging to former first lady, Patience Jonathan.
The two lawyers, Chima Onuigbo from the law firm of Mike Ozekhome and one Luke Aghanenu both claimed that they were briefed by representative of the companies.
The four companies are; Pluto Property and Investment Company Ltd, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Ltd, Transocean Property and Investment Company Ltd and Globus Integrated Service Ltd.
It would be recalled that the four companies, were alleged by the EFCC to have been used by former special assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Domestic Affairs, Waripama-Owei Dudafa to launder $15.5million.
When the companies were arraigned, four men who represented the companies, namely Friday Davis, Agbor Baro, Dioghowori Frederick and Taiwo Ebenezer, pleaded guilty to the charge.
The sum involved in the criminal case is the same money which Mrs. Jonathan is claiming belongs to her as the sole signatory to the accounts of the convicted companies.
She, however, denied ownership of the companies.
However in a new twist in the matter, the law firm of Mike Ozekhome (SAN) filed an application on May 8 on the companies’ behalf seeking to set aside the guilty plea.
EFCC has, however, filed a counter affidavit opposing the application.
Mrs. Jonathan is also praying the court to unfreeze the accounts in a separate suit.
EFCC arraigned the companies alongside a Dudafa, a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku.
Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty to the 17-count charge.
Beside the application filed by Ozekhome Chambers, another motion to set aside the guilty plea was filed by Briggs, who was the companies’ secretary, through his lawyer, Ige Asemudara.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Wednesday, Chima Onuigbo, who stood in for Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said he was served with the prosecution’s counter affidavit on Tuesday.
He sought an adjournment to enable the companies respond.
Another lawyer, Luke Aghanenu, also appeared for the companies.
He claimed he was engaged by the companies’ representatives as their authentic counsel.
According to him, he is the one who ought to speak on the companies’ behalf, not Onuigbo.
But, Onuigbo said Mike Ozekhome Chambers was engaged by Briggs to represent the companies.
The lawyer said Ozekhome had been appearing for the companies, saying he was surprised by the new counsel’s appearance.
He described Aghanenu as an “interloper”, saying he should have filed a proper application.
In a ruling, the trial judge Justice Babs Kuewumi asked Aghanenu to file a formal notice of appearance as the companies’ representatives.
After the issue was step down, one of the other lawyers in the matter, Ige Asemudara said he was also served with EFCC’s counter affidavit on Tuesday.
Dudafa’s lawyer, Gbenga Oyewole (SAN) said he was not served.
“As long as we’re involved in this proceedings we are entitled to be served,” he said.
EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo said since the application was challenging the validity of companies’ plea, it could be heard and judgement delivered at the end of the trial.
This, he said, would be in line with Section 396 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of 2015.
“I apply that the trial should continue,” he said.
But, Asemudara said his client was challenging the guilty plea and not the charge, so it should be taken first and ruling delivered before further proceedings.
He said Oyedepo’s submission was misconceived, adding that the case of the second defendant was “intricately connected” with the fourth to seventh defendants’ (the companies).
He accused the prosecution of delaying the case, saying previous adjournments were at its instance.
Urging the court to hear the application and deliver judgement, he added: “We don’t want our client to fear they were not given fair hearing.”
Ruling, Justice Babs Kuewumi held that the application would be heard and determined before the prosecution witness continues with his evidence.
“Section 396 (2) which says the delivery of the ruling shall be considered at the point of judgement does not apply to this type of application,” he said.
The judge noted that EFCC’s late filing of its counter-affidavit necessitated the adjournment.
Justice Kuewumi adjourned until December 12 for hearing of pending applications.
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