- 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 and when he is seized of the whole matter, he would change his mind
- Ibeto’s lawyer, Obi, said his client was in the US to seek treatment for a life-threatening ailment, submitting a letter from the doctor to that effect
Tuesday’s scheduled arraignment of Cletus Ibeto, the chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, was again postponed at the Lagos High Court located in Ikeja.
Due to the defendant’s repeated failure to appear in court, the arraignment has failed four times.
His legal team, under the direction of Senior Advocate of Nigeria Uche Obi, informed Justice Ismail Ijelu that the office of the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice had moved to take over the case’s prosecution, raising a question about legal representation.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, through its counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo (SAN), described the move as “an attempt to scuttle the trial”.
Recall that the anti-graft agency had charged the businessman alongside his companies, Ibeto Energy Development Company and Odoh Holdings Ltd, with 10 counts, bordering on alleged conspiracy, fraud, forgery, and fraudulent use of documents.
Earlier, the court issued a bench warrant against Ibeto, ordering that he must be produced in court on Tuesday for his arraignment.
At the Tuesday proceedings, the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions, Dr Jide Martins, who appeared on behalf of the state’s Attorney-General, Lawal Pedro (SAN), informed the court of a petition written by the law firm of another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke, seeking a review of the case file and the outright takeover of the case by the Lagos AG.
He said, “I came to notify the court that we received a petition from the defendant in this case, pursuant to Section 211 of the 1999 Constitution, asking the Office of the Attorney General to take over the case. I have written a letter to the honourable court to that effect. The decision has not been made, and that decision can only be made when the AG’s office receives the case file. We’ve sent a letter to the EFCC.”
But reacting, the prosecution counsel, Oyedepo, said, “This is not a case that the Lagos State Attorney-General can take over because the main counts of the charge are on federal laws.
“Section 211 limits the state AG to the takeover of state offences and his power cannot be extended to Section 174 which involves federal offences.
“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 and when he is seized of the whole matter, he would change his mind.”
The counsel also informed the judge that following the bench warrant issued by the court, the EFCC visited the Ikoyi office of the defendant but could not apprehend him.
“We also visited his house up to three times before we heard that he sneaked out of the country. Then they reported the matter to the AGF who invited me to brief him on the facts of the case and after the briefing, he gave the EFCC the go-ahead to proceed.
“A petition against this case by another of the defendant’s lawyers, Ikpeazu dated 15th November, was also sent to the EFFC Chairman stating the grounds of their preliminary objection, which is before the court.
“The EFCC chairman was also briefed by the Investigating Police Officer and myself and after the review, he concluded that it was because of the bench warrant that the defendant did not want to appear before the court.
“By now, six different eminent lawyers have been employed by the defendant showing various steps to scuttle the hearing of this case.”
However, Ibeto’s lawyer, Obi, said his client was in the US to seek treatment for a life-threatening ailment, submitting a letter from the doctor to that effect.
In the circumstance, Justice Ijelu, therefore, adjourned the case till January 29, 2024, for the resolution of representation and prosecution of the defendant.
“Having considered all submissions made by the lawyers, the court is of the view that the issue of representation by the learned prosecutor on record and that of the AG is an issue and has to be resolved,” the judge ruled.