Alleged N400m fraud: Lawyer tells judge to disqualify himself

Jos –  There was a mild drama at the Federal High Court I Jos on Thursday when a defence counsel asked the presiding Judge to disquailify himself and the prosecuting counsel from an alleged N400 million fraud case.

The defence counsel, Mr Uche Mgbemena, is representing Mr Ibrahim Suleiman who is standing trial since 2007 over the amount.

He is being tried for alleged involvement in hacking into the system of the defunct First Inland Bank plc, transferring and distributing the amount into his private account and different others without the knowledge of the bank.

The accused person is being tried on a seven-count charge of money laundering, contrary to Money Laundry Prohibition Act of 2004, among others.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Suleiman the accused had, on three occasions, written to the Chief Judge of Federal High Court, Abuja, complaining about alleged bias attitude of the presiding Judge toward him.

He alleged that the biase arose from the judge’s comments and actions against since he came into the matter.

He also complained about “unholy and unethical relationship’’ between the Judge and the prosecution counsel, Mr Cosmas Egwu.

In separate letters dated March 23, 2016; May 3, 2016 and Sept. 28, 2017, the accused asked the CJ to re-assign the case to another judge, claiming that he had lost confidence in the presiding judge.

“Sir, as long as Justice Ayo Emmanuel is left to preside over this matter, justice and fairness can never be served; I can never get justice or fairness from a man who has clearly indicated that he hates me with a passion, ’’ one of the letters read.

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When the case came up for hearing on Thursday, Mgbemena, announced in court that he and his client had lost confidence on Justice Ayo Emmanuel and the EFCC counsel, Mr Cosmas Ugwu, following their conducts on the case.

In a motion filed before the court, Mgbemena accused the judge of bias, “unholy and unethical relationship’’ with the prosecution counsel.

“My Lord, we hereby depose that your lordship’s biased comments against our client and your unethical relationship with the prosecution counsel has made the accused uncomfortable and afraid of obtaining a fair trial.

“My client, together with his brother in-law, after our last sitting, saw the prosecution counsel entering into your chamber and stayed for over an hour before coming out.

“When he (prosecution counsel) came out and surprisingly saw the accused outside, he shook hands with him for the first time since this trial began about 10 years now, ’’ Mgbemena alleged.

He then urged the Judge to recuse himself from the case and also disqualify the prosecution counsel for having personally deposed to a counter affidavit dated Sept. 8, 2017 in response to the defendant’s application.

According to him, “for deposing to the counter affidavit, the prosecution counsel has put himself as a competent witness and should be compelled to stand as prosecution witness before your Lordship’’.

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But Ugwu challenged the application of the accused, which he described as “very outrageous and contrary to the law’’ which does not disqualify any counsel who deposed to an affidavit of a defendant.

“My Lord, by implication, what the defence counsel is asking for is not just disqualifying me from addressing the motion he filed, but from the entire criminal case.

“I submit here that no any counsel that deposed to an affidavit stands disqualified to continue with a matter before a law court.

“There is no law that says so, therefore, I urge your Lordship to dismiss the application forthwith as lacking in merit, ’’ he solicited.

On the allegation of him having an unholy and unethical relationship with the presiding judge, Ugwu argued that the onus rests with the accused to prove his allegation.

He said, “the law says he who alleges must prove it.’’

Ugwu urged the court to disregard the allegations and dismiss the application which he said was just part of a ploy to delay or frustrate the case, which should be allowed at all.

After listening to the arguments of the two counsel on the issue of disqualification, the Judge adjourned the case to Friday for ruling. (NAN)

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