Judge: Sylva, others to attend court on N19.5m ‘money laundering’ charge
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, has ordered that former Bayelsa State Governor Timipre Sylva and his co-accused should always attend court on the N19.2 billion money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) preferred against them.
The judge’s order was contained in a ruling yesterday on lawyers’ arguments on whether or not it was necessary for the accused to attend court and mount the dock when they were challenging the court’s jurisdiction, the competence of the charge and seeking the disqualification of the prosecution lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN).
The EFCC, late last year, filed the 42-count charge, in which Sylva and others were accused of laundering about N19.2 billion.
Charged with Sylva are: Francis Okoburo, Gbenga S. Balogun, Samuel Ogbuku, Marlin Maritime Limited, Eat Catering Services Limited and Haloween Blue Construction and Logistics Limited.
Sylva and Balogun reluctantly mounted the dock yesterday, but Okoburo and Ogbuku were absent in court.
This prompted prosecution lawyer, A. Adeniyi, to urge the court to issue bench warrants for their arrest.
Defence lawyers, Isreal Olorundare (SAN), who represented Sylva, opposed the prosecution’s application for bench warrants.
Olorundare averred that since the accused were challenging the court’s jurisdiction, the competence of the charge and the continued appearance of the prosecution lawyer in the case, the court should first decide those issues before proceeding to hear the charge.
The lawyer argued that since the accused persons’ applications were still pending, the court should decide them one way or the other before taking their pleas.
He said the prosecution lawyer was disabled from making any application, including for a bench warrant, because his appearance in the case was being challenged.
Lawyers to Okoburo and Ogbuku, James Odiba and Ajayi Olowo apologised to the court for their clients’ absence.
Odiba said his client was ill and had gone on a medical trip to Senegal; Olowo said his client was in another court in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, over another criminal case involving him.
They agreed with Olorundare’s argument that pending issues raised by the accused against the court and the prosecutor should be resolved before any further steps taken in the case.
Justice Mohammed held that since there was a pending charge against Sylva and others, they were, by law, required to attend court at every hearing, despite their pending applications against the court’s jurisdiction, the charge and the prosecution lawyer.
The judge held that the defence lawyer failed to show any legal provision that the client could stay away from court just because they had pending applications challenging the jurisdiction of the court and the competence of the charge.
He also held that until he decides whether or not the prosecution lawyer was competent to proceed with the case, he could not be restrained from making any application in the case, including the application for bench warrant.
Justice Mohammed declined to issue the bench warrant on the grounds that the lawyers to Okoburo and Ogbuku had sufficiently explained why their clients were absent in court.
He adjourned till October 8 for hearing of the pending applications by the accused.
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