The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday arraigned a dismissed Federal High Court judge, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, for alleged money laundering.
She was charged with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Godwin Obla, who was absent.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa issued a summons for him to appear on the day fixed for trial.
When the case was called for the defendants’ to take their pleas, prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo said efforts to reach Obla were unsuccessful.
The lawyer said the SAN’s phones were switched off and that his lawyer could not confirm his whereabouts.
He said: “I can say that the second defendant (Obla) is at large. I called the counsel representing him; he informed me that he could not reach Mr Obla. The commission also took steps to contact him, but we discovered that he switched off his phone.
“We were not expecting difficulties in producing him in court, considering our gesture to him.”
Only Ofili-Ajumogobia was arrested by EFCC operatives on Tuesday after the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja struck out a previous charge against her and Obla for lack of jurisdiction.
“Before trial commences, we’ll do our best to produce him,” Oyedepo told Justice Aikawa.
He urged the court to issue summons for Obla and to allow Ajumogobia to take her plea alone.
The court granted the prayer and the charges were read to Ofili-Ajumogobia.
EFCC said she and Obla conspired on May 21, 2014, to indirectly conceal and retain N5 million in the Diamond Bank account of Nigel and Colive Limited.
According to the commission, they “reasonably ought to have known that the money forms part of proceeds of unlawful act to wit: unlawful enrichment”.
The alleged offence is contrary to sections 15 (2) (a) and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 and punishable under Section 15 (3).
Ofili-Ajumogobia was also accused of indirectly concealing N12 million in the same account, despite knowing that it was a proceed of “unlawful enrichment”, contrary to Section (2) (d) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.
The commission said she indirectly retained $150,000 in her account on May 30, 2013, knowing that it was a proceed of “unlawful enrichment”.
EFCC said she further retained $20,000 on June 11, 2013; $30,000 on February 11, 2014; $50,000 on March 27, 2014 and another $150,000 on March 29, 2014 in the same Diamond Bank (now Access Bank) account.
The prosecution said she also illegally retained $70,000 on June 2, 2014; $55,000 on October 14, 2014; $50,000 on November 21, 2014; another $50,000 on December 20, 2014 and $30,000 between June 17 and 19, 2015.
In Count 17, EFCC alleged that Ajumogobia, on or about June 5, 2012, indirectly retained N18 million from Arkleen Oil and Gas Limited in her account domiciled in Access Bank Plc.
The commission said she also reasonably ought to have known that the money “forms part of proceeds of unlawful act to wit: unlawful enrichment…”
In the last count, Ofili-Ajumogobia allegedly made a false statement to an officer that N33 million was paid into her account for the purchase of a landed property on Rita Ajumogobia Street, Asaba, Delta State capital.
The alleged offence of lying to an officer contravenes Section 39 (2) of the EFCC Act.
After pleading not guilty to the 18-count charge, Ofili-Ajumogobia’s lawyer, Mr Wale Akoni (SAN), urged the court to grant her bail on self-cognisance.
He said the defendant was a serving judicial officer and that she did not jump bail for once while on trial at the Lagos High Court.
Oyedepo opposed the application on the ground that Ofili-Ajumogobia had been dismissed by the National Judicial Council (NJC) on corruption-related offences.
But Akoni said Ofili-Ajumogoba remains a judge until President Muhammadu Buhari ratifies the NJC decision.
“What the NJC does is to recommend someone for dismissal in line with Section 292 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution. Until the President acts on the recommendation, she remains a judge. There is no evidence that the President has done so,” Akoni said.
Justice Aikawa held that Ofili-Ajumogobia was entitled to bail since the alleged offence was bailable.
He granted her bail for N10 million with one surety in like sum.
The surety, the judge said, must be a civil servant not below Grade Level 16 in Federal or state employment and must own a landed property within the court’s jurisdiction.
Justice Aikawa said the defendant should deposit her international passport with the court’s Deputy Chief Registrar.
He released Ofili-Ajumogobia to her lawyer pending when she perfects her bail conditions, which must be within the next seven working days.
Justice Aikawa said he did so after considering the public holidays.
On Obla, the judge said: “An order is hereby made for the issuance of summons compelling Mr Godwin Obla (SAN) to appear before this court on May 15 for the purpose of trial.
“The case is hereby adjourned for trial till May 15.”