N4.8bn fraud: Judge returns Ibeto’s case file to Chief Judge
The ongoing trial of the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, Chief Cletus Ibeto, over alleged N4.8 billion fraud before an Ikeja High Court of Lagos State, was stalled today, due to the return of the case file by the trial judge, Justice Ismail Ijelu to the State’s Chief Judge, Justice Kazeem Alogba.
Justice Ijelu told lawyers that the case can not proceed until the Chief Judge decides on the various petitions written by the defence challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case and accusing him of bias.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged the defendant 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.
However, the scheduled arraignment of the defendant has been stalled on four occasions, September 28, October 5, November 3 and December 6 due to his failure to appear in court, although he was being represented by his lawyers.
This prompted Justice Ijelu to accede to the prosecution’s request on November 3, 2023, to order the Arrest of the businessman, for allegedly refusing to appear to take his plea despite many undertakings by his lawyers to produce him in court.
However, at the last proceeding on the matter on December 6, 2023, the Lagos State Attorney-General/Commissioner for Justice Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN) 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), Dr. 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 anti-graft agency, through its lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs, has challenged the move, describing it as an attempt to scuttle the trial.
Jacobs 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.
But at the resumed hearing of the matter today, Justice Ijelu said, “This case can not go on today because the case file has been returned to the Chief Judge due to the many petitions flying around. I advise parties to liaise with the administrative judge to know the next step to take in the case.
The judge then adjourned the case indefinitely, to await the decision of the various petitions written by the defendant.
It will be recalled that Jacobs had told the Court of Appeal on January 15 that Chief Ibeto had approached the anti-graft agency seeking to enter a plea bargain arrangement and pay back the money he allegedly obtained from the nominal complainant, Chief Daniel Chukwudozie.
However, the defence lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), denied knowledge of the discussion; he told the appellate court that his client told him to continue with the appeal he filed to challenge the warrant of arrest issued against him by Justice Ijelu.