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Graft: Fani-Kayode asks trial judge to disqualify self from case

By Joshua Olalekan, Lagos

A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode has asked Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos, before whom he is being tried for alleged money laundering, to recuse himself from adjudicating the case.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned Fani-Kayode and former Minister of State for Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman, on a 17-count charge of laundering about N4.6billion.

The 17-count charge borders on alleged conspiracy, unlawful retention of proceeds of theft and corruption and money laundering.

Fani-Kayode recalled that sometime in 2008, he was tried by the EFCC on a 47-count charge before Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumobia.

He said the charge was “drafted, prepared, settled and executed” by Justice Hassan when he (Hassan) was still a legal officer at EFCC.

The former minister, who was acquitted, said EFCC “vigoruously” prosecuted the charge against him within a period of seven years while Hassan remained a prosecuting counsel at EFCC.

In a fresh application filed to challenge the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case, Fani-Kayode said as a former EFCC lawyer who had filed criminal charges against him in the past for which he was discharged and acquitted, he would not get justice under Justice Hassan.

He said upon conclusion of his tenure as the Minister of Aviation in 2007, the EFCC had investigated him for sundry matters that culminated in criminal charge. No FHC/L/523C/2008.

He stated that Justice Hassan, presiding in the present matter, was the commission’s lead counsel that reviewed his case and concluded that he should be charged to court for criminal prosecution.

The former minister said Justice Hassan as the then EFCC senior counsel, who prepared and filed the charge sheet against him, believed while instituting the criminal process that a prima facie criminal case had been established against him before preparing drafting and filling the criminal charge No FHC/L/523C/2008 against him.

He said he was subsequently arraigned before the Lagos Division of the court on a 47-count charge personally signed by Justice Hassan as a senior prosecuting counsel for the EFCC in 2008.

According to him the charges instituted against him bordered mainly on his activities as minister of aviation.

He contended that Justice Hassan, being at that time an EFCC senior prosecuting counsel in drafting and preparing the charge against him must have believed or formed an opinion about him as EFCC prosecuting counsel that as the minister of aviation, he must have abused his office and corruptly enriched himself and thereby committed a financial crime against the country.

He added that as a result of the charges, he was prosecuted by the anti-graft agency for about seven years before he was finally discharged and acquitted by the court, resulting in the striking out 45 of the 47 counts and leaving only two counts, which went to trial and from which he was subsequently discharged and acquitted.

Fani-Kayode is, therefore, praying the judge to recuse himself from the pending proceedings before him because of the likehood of bias, having drafted a charge in a financial crime case as a staff of a prosecutorial agency before his appointment as a judge.

The former minister said he believes the court as presently constituted does not guarantee fair trial, neither is he guaranteed neutrality, impartiality or fair hearing of his case before the court.

Besides, Fani-Kayode said the transactions leading to the charge occurred in Abuja while he was the Director of Media and Publicity of the Goodluck Jonathan Presidential Campaign Organisation with its office in Abuja, adding that he also lives in Abuja.

He is, therefore, also praying the court for an order to return the file to the Chief Judge for reassignment to another judge sitting in the Abuja division.

The case comes up for hearing on February 8.

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