A Federal High Court in Lagos has refused to consolidate the trials of Uyiekpen Giwa-Osagie and Abdullahi Babalele, the lawyer and the son-in-law to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
In a ruling delivered on Monday, Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke said since there was no provision in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 empowering him to turn down a case assigned to him by the Chief Judge of the court, he could not reject Babalele’s case.
He also said he could not consolidate the two matters because there was no legal provision for the consolidation of criminal cases.
“The court will try both charges separately,” Justice Aneke held.
He, therefore, adjourned the cases until April 2, saying he was not sure whether he would be transferred from Lagos to another state.
Justice Aneke explained that the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, had given an instruction to judges not to open new trials pending the conclusion of the arrangement for judges’ transfer.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged Giwa-Osagie and Babalele with laundering money during the 2019 general elections, in which Atiku was a presidential candidate on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
While Babalele was accused of laundering $140,000, Giwa-Osagie was charged alongside his brother, Erhunse Giwa-Osagie, with the offence of laundering $2 million.
The defendants were first arraigned separately before a vacation judge, Justice Nicholas Oweibo, on August 14 during the court’s annual vacation.
They, however, pleaded not guilty and were granted bail by the court.
After the court resumed from the vacation, Babalele’s case was assigned to Justice Aneke while the Giwa-Osagie brothers’ case was assigned to Justice Chuka Obiozor.
At the instance of the defence counsels, Norrison Quakers and Ahmed Raji, who wanted a joint trial of all the defendants, Justice Tsoho ordered the transfer of Babalele’s case to Justice Aneke.
They then asked Justice Aneke to consolidate the two cases, so that the defendants could be jointly tried.
The lawyers claimed that the facts in the charges were essentially the same and it was better to consolidate the cases before one judge.
But counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, challenged the transfer of Babalele’s case from Justice Obiozor to Justice Aneke and also opposed the application to consolidate the two cases.
Oyedepo said, “We are protesting that we have written a letter to the Honourable Chief Judge for a reassignment of the case to the former judge, Justice Obiozor.
“There is nothing connecting the case pending before this court and this case. It is going to be dangerous things if we allow this.”
“During the vacation, two cases were assigned to Justice Obiozor; this one and that of Professor Maurice Iwu but they were both transferred,” he added.
The EFCC counsel, therefore, urged the court to adjourn the matter so that it can be reassigned to the former judge.
The anti-graft agency had accused Babalele of “procuring Bashir Mohammed to make cash payment of $140,000 without going through any financial institution.”
Oyedepo alleged that the money exceeded the threshold stipulated by the money laundering law.
According to him, Babalele made the transaction on February 20, 2019, in contravention of Section 18 (c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and was liable to be punished under Section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.
But Babalele pleaded not guilty to the two counts pressed against him.
In their joint arraignment, the EFCC accused the Giwa-Osagie brothers of conspiring with each other to make cash payment of $2 million without going through a financial institution.
It said the transaction violated the provisions of Sections 18(a) and 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011, adding that the defendants were liable to be punished under Section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.
However, they also pleaded not guilty to the two counts filed against them.
The Economic and Financial Commission, (EFCC) has re-arraigned Abdullahi Babalele, a son-in-law of the former Vice President and Presidential Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, in the 2019 general elections, Atiku Abubakar.
Babalele was re-arraigned before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke on a 2 count charge bordering on allegations of money laundering.
According to the charge signed on behalf of the EFCC by its prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, Mr Babalele committed the offence in February 2019.
When the charges were read to him, Babalele pleaded not guilty.
His lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) argued his application seeking the permission of the court for the release of his international passport to enable him to travel abroad for medical treatment.
The EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, raised objections to the request insisting that there was no materials placed before the court to warrant the application being granted.
Mr Oyedepo also insisted that there is no evidence that the defendant cannot be treated in the country.
He asked the court to dismiss the application and instead order for an accelerated trial.
Justice Aneke has fixed Oct 11 for his ruling.
Mr Babalele was first arraigned before Justice Nicolas Oweibo during the court’s annual vacation and was granted bail in the sum of N20m.
Justice Nicholas Oweibo admitted Babalele to bail in the sum of N20million with one surety in like sum.
The judge said the surety must be resident in Lagos and must produce evidence of means through an affidavit.
Babalele was also directed to deposit his passport, which has been with the EFCC, with the court.
The two counts against Abdullahi reads;
COUNT 1: That you Abdullahi Babalele on or about the 20th day of February 2019 in Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court. procured Bashir Mohammed to make a cash payment of the sum of $140,000. 00 (One Hundred and Forty Thousand United State Dollars) without going through a financial institution, which sum exceeded the amount authorized by Law and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.
Count 2: That you Abdullahi Babalele on or about the 20th day of February 2019 in Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, aided Bashir Mohammed to make a cash payment of the sum of $140,000. 00 (One Hundred and Forty Thousand United State Dollars) without going through financial institution, which sum exceeded the amount authorized by Law and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.