N4.8bn Fraud: Lagos Chief Judge Reassigns Cletus Ibeto’s Case To New Judge

The Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem Alogba, has reassigned the case file of the N4.8 billion fraud charges, filed against the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, Chief Cletus Ibeto and two others, to Justice Oyindamola Ogala. Justice Alogba decided after reviewing petitions written by the defendants against Justice Ismail Ijelu, who earlier presided over the case. In the various petitions, the defendants accused Justice Ijelu of bias and also challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged the Chief Ibeto before the court alongside his companies, Ibeto Energy Development Company and Odoh Holdings Limited, on a 10-count charge bordering on allegations of conspiracy, fraud, forgery and fraudulent use of documents.

At the resumed hearing of the case last Friday, before Justice Ogala, neither the prosecution, the EFCC nor the defendants were in court.
When the court’s registrar called the case, Adebayo Shittu announced appearance for all the defendants while Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Dr. Babajide Martins, announced his appearance as an interested party.

Dr. Martin informed the judge that his appearance in the matter as the interested party was based on Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution and the petition written by the defendants asking the State’s Attorney General to take over the case.

The trial judge, after hearing from the defendants’ counsel and DPP, held that the trial can not go on because of the absence of the prosecution. Justice Ogala told the parties present that the case would be adjourned and a hearing notice would be served on the EFCC, to appear on the next suspend date.
Subsequently, the judge adjourned further hearings of the matter to March 11. 

The planned arraignment of the defendant has been stalled on four occasions, September 28, October 5, November 3 and December 6, 2023, due to his failure to appear in court, although his lawyers represented him. 
This prompted Justice Ijelu to accede to the prosecution’s request on November 3, 2023, to arrest the businessman for allegedly refusing to appear to take his plea despite many undertakings by his lawyers to produce him in court.

However, during the proceedings of December 6, 2023, the Lagos State Attorney-General, Lawal Pedro, informed the court that he was considering taking over the matter based on a petition written by the defendant.

The State’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Jide Martins, who represented the Attorney-General in court, also informed the court of a petition written by the law firm of Robert Clarke (SAN), seeking a review of the case file and the outright taking over of the case by the office of the Attorney-General.
However, the EFCC through its lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), has challenged the move, describing it as an attempt to scuttle the trial.

Jacobs (SAN) had insisted that the Attorney-General’s letter was written without hearing from the EFCC and that the purpose was to shield the defendant from appearing before the court, and when he is seized of the whole matter, the AG will change his mind.

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