The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has asked Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos not disqualify himself from adjudicating the trial of former Minister of Aviation Chief Femi Fani-Kayode.
It said the former minister’s application for the judge to recuse himself was a bid to “scuttle” the trial.
EFCC arraigned Fani-Kayode with former Minister of State for Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman, on a 17-count charge of laundering about N4.6billion. They pleaded not guilty.
They were charge along with former National Chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) and ex-Chairman of Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Mr. Yusuf Danjuma and a company, Jointrust Dimentions Nigeria Limited.
Fani-Kayode said Justice Hassan, who worked as Head of Legal at the EFCC before his appointment as a judge, signed the money laundering charge for which he was previously tried and acquitted by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumobia on July 1, 2015.
But, EFCC, in its counter-affidavit deposed to by Idris Mohammed, urged the judge not to grant Fani-Kayode’s application.
The commission said Justice Hassan only signed the charge against Fani-Kayode in compliance with EFCC’s policy that a charge assigned to a private legal practitioner must be signed by the Head of Legal of the zone.
The prosecution said Justice Hassan never had any personal contact with Fani-Kayode, and was not a member of the team of investigators and prosecutors that handled the former minister’s trial.
EFCC said the charge against Fani-Kayode, which Justice Hassan signed, was farmed out to a private prosecutor, Mr Festus Keyamo. It added that Justice Hassan never appeared as a prosecution counsel in the case.
It said the charge was drafted by Keyamo and was merely signed by Justice Hassan on behalf of EFCC chairman to prevent objections to its validity in court.
The prosecution said the judge has not demonstrated any likelihood of bias against Fani-Kayode, having granted him bail upon arraignment and even rebuked the EFCC for re-arresting the former minister in court in relation to another charge.
“This honourable court does not have any personal interest in this matter and would not have granted the applicant’s application for bail if there is any likelihood of bias against the applicant.
“The present charge was not prepared by His Lordship but was prepared, drafted and signed by Rotimi Oyedepo. Justice Hassan is a judge of the Federal High Court and not in the employment of the EFCC,” the prosecution said.
On Fani-Kayode’s prayer that the case be transferred to Abuja, EFCC said some of the activities that led to the charge also occurred in Lagos.
“The various accounts used as an intermediate step in the scheme of the alleged fraud/offences are domiciled in Zenith Bank Plc, which has its operational headquarters in Lagos,” EFCC said.
It said various officers of Zenith Bank listed as witnesses also reside in Lagos.
EFCC said the court has jurisdiction to entertain the charge, adding that the Chief Judge cannot exercise his powers to transfer a case after the prosecution had called its first witness.
“The prosecution has called the first witness who is still giving evidence in this charge, and at this stage of proceedings, the CJ cannot transfer the matter.
“The proof of evidence has disclosed a prima facie case against the second defendant (Fani-Kayode.
“The respondent (EFCC) will be gravely prejudiced if this application is granted. It is brought in bad faith to scuttle this trial. It is in the interest of justice to refuse this application,” EFCC prayed.
Justice Hassan adjourned until March 1 for hearing.