Lagos (WorldStage Newsonline)-- Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday dismissed the application by the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji to quash the money laundering charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice OkekeIn in a ruling delivered in a courtroom filled with Ikuforiji's supporters and some lawmakers, held that the reasons canvassed in support of the application to quash the charge was not tenable.
The court also dismissed a counter motion filed by the EFCC challenging the propriety of the Speaker's application; saying the objection raised by the commission was misconceived, and lacking in merit.
The EFCC had on March 1, 2012 arraigned Ikuforiji and his Personal Assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi, on an amended 20-count charge bordering on allegations of money laundering.
The commission accused Ikuforiji and his aide of committed money laundering offences by accepting cash payment from the Assembly to the tune of N501 million without going through a financial institution.
In his the judge faulted the Speaker's argument that since the alleged acts were done in his capacity as the Speaker he was not liable as that would amount to suing Lagos State government.
According to the court, such reasoning could not stand because the Speaker and his aide were charged to court in their own capacity.
The judge maintained that "If the prosecution had wanted to, it could have filed the action against the Lagos State Government or the Attorney-General, but this action is filed against the accused persons.
"The motion to quash the charge is hereby dismissed while the accelerated hearing of the matter is hereby ordered."
The court then adjourned the matter till October 24 the commencement of trial.
Meanwhile, Ikuforiji had expressed dissatisfaction with the ruling.
In a statement by his lawyer, Tunde Akinrinmisi, hestated that "it must be made clear that the ruling of today does not in any way or manner relate to whether or not a prima facie case has been made out against the Speaker, Rt. Adeyemi Ikuforiji based on the charge against him.
"We believe the Speaker has a very good defence to the charge and would be cleared of the allegations against him and acquitted."
The lawyer to the accused persons, Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) had in his argument in support of the motion to quash the charge submitted that a careful look at the charge would show that the EFCC never accused the Speaker of embezzlement or of haven stolen money.
While citing Section 318 of the Constitution to back his position, Oyetibo had also submitted that the Speaker of the House of Assembly is part of government, and that Ikuforiji only exercised governmental power as he transacted business on behalf of government.
But, in his response, counsel to the EFCC, Godwin Obla had argued in his counter motion that the accused persons ought to have raised their objection to the charges before their plea was taken in accordance with Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA), adding that their failure to do so is fatal to their case.
Obla further argued that Ikuforiji was not charged in his capacity as an individual who must obey the law of the land.
"The law on money laundering is very clear and nobody is exempted, whether an individual or government, nobody is saying you can not spend more that what the law stipulated but you must channel the money through a financial institution.
According to the charge sheet, which was signed by one Mary Onoja, the EFCC alleged that Ikuforiji and Atoyebi conspired among themselves between April, 2010 and July, 2011 to do an illegal act by accepting various cash payments amounting in the aggregate of N501 million from the Assembly without going through a financial institution.
The offence, according to the anti-graft agency, is contrary to and punishable under Sections 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under Sections 16 (2) (b) of the same Act.