The defence team of a one-time Lagos socialite and businessman, Fred Ajudua, on Thursday stalled his arraignment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly defrauding a German company of $1 million at an Ikeja High Court.
The lawyers lead by Norrison Quakers argued against Mr. Ajudua’s arraignment after Justice Josephine Oyefeso had ordered him into the dock for his plea.
“My Lord, the business of the day as listed in your cause list is a ruling and not arraignment, the case of NDDC V Ecobank backs this argument.
“Trial starts when the defendant is arraigned, we have not been served with the charge and other processes, I have also spoken to the defendant and he told me that he did not see the charge.
“I will have to seek for a short adjournment to properly study the charge.
“My client is in poor health and he has only one functional kidney which is deteriorating fast, he also needs time to seek medical attention,” Mr. Quakers told the court.
The counsel to the EFCC, S. A. Atteh, after hearing Mr. Quakers’ complaints of not seeing the charge, immediately served Mr. Quakers and his team with copies of the charge in the courtroom.
“My Lord, it is only when the plea of the defendant is taken that he is properly before the court.”
Mr. Quakers, upon receiving the charge, noted some irregularities including that Ajudua was charged under the Penal Code and not the Criminal Law of Lagos State of 2011 which is currently used for criminal cases.
Justice Oyefeso, acceding to Mr. Quakers’ request for an adjournment, fixed May 16 for the EFCC to file a formal application for arraignment.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the EFCC had on February 13 re-opened a charge filed against Ajudua in 2005.
In the charge, the EFCC had claimed that Mr. Ajudua, an alleged serial fraudster, and one Joseph Ochunor, an accomplice, had sometime in 1993 defrauded one Ziad Abu Zalaf of Technical International Ltd., a company based in Germany of $1 million.
The fraud case had earlier been struck out by Justice Morenikeji Obadina in 2009 for want of diligent prosecution after Ajudua failed to make an appearance in court on 24 occasions.
On March 13, Justice Josephine Oyefeso had adjourned for a ruling to determine if the case should be added to the court’s cause list for trial.
Earlier during Thursday’s proceedings, Justice Oyefeso had in her ruling ordered that Mr. Ajudua should be arraigned by the anti-graft agency.
“This case was assigned to this court in November 2016 when the defendant became available within the jurisdiction.
“The prosecution applied that the matter be put on the cause list as the applicants were willing to prosecute the case diligently as witnesses are available to testify.
“On February 9, the defence had raised a preliminary objection challenging the powers of the court to try a case that is struck out since 2009, stating the application of the EFCC was an abuse of court processes.
“When a case is struck out, it remains alive though in a comatose state, and it comes alive through the appropriate application to relist the case,” she said.
Justice Oyefeso noted that there was a lacuna in the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Lagos regarding what happens to a case when it is struck out.
“Section 262 of the ACJL has come to the rescue in this instance by stating that the court shall adopt a procedure which will provide substantive justice.
“The days of technicalities are long gone and the preliminary objection is unmeritorious and has failed and it is hereby dismissed.
“The defendant should please go into the dock and his plea should be taken,” she ruled. (NAN)