Alleged N4.8bn fraud: EFCC, Lagos Govt battle over Ibeto’s prosecution


The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has resisted a move by the Attorney-General of the Lagos State Government to take over the alleged fraud case involving the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, Chief Cletus Ibeto.

The planned arraignment of Ibeto failed to come to fruition on Tuesday at the Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, making it the fourth time the court has failed to arraign the accused person.

The defendant again failed to show up in court while his team of lawyers, led by Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Uche Obi told Justice Ismail Ijelu that an issue of legal representation had arisen following moves by the office of the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice to take over the prosecution of the case.

The EFCC through its counsel, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rotimi Jacobs, described the move as “an attempt to scuttle the trial”.

The anti-graft agency had charged the defendant before the court alongside his companies, Ibeto Energy Development Company and Odoh Holdings Ltd, on a 10-count charge bordering on allegations of conspiracy, fraud, forgery, and fraudulent use of documents.

Following his failure to appear in court on four different occasions, Justice Ijelu at the last sitting of November 3rd acceded to the request of the prosecution and issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the defendant for allegedly refusing to appear to take his plea despite many undertakings by his lawyers to produce him in court.

The court subsequently adjourned till Dec. 5th for the arraignment of the defendant. At the proceedings, the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, Dr Jide Martins, appeared in court on behalf of the state’s Attorney-general, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Lawal Pedro.

Martins informed the court of a petition written by the law firm of another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke, seeking a review of the case file and the outright takeover of the case by the office of the Attorney-General.

The DPP further told the court that although the Ministry of Justice had written to the EFCC requesting the case file, the AG had yet to decide on the issue.

Based on the development, the defence counsel, Obi urged the court to adjourn the case until the issue of legal representation is resolved.

Obi said, “An issue of legal representation has just arisen in court this morning. The learned DPP has asked for an opportunity to reappraise the complaint of the complainant and the state has to be given a chance to take that decision. It appears to me that nothing else can be done today (Tuesday) but to allow for a reasonable time for the state to take a decision.

The counsel also told the court that the defendant is currently in the US for a life-threatening ailment. He submitted a letter from the doctor to that effect.

The letter written by Dr. Darlington Udeh MD of Brownsville Infectious Disease, PA, Texas US indicates that the defendant, Cletus Ibeto, is currently undergoing evaluation, procedure, and treatment as a result of complications arising from diabetes mellitus.

But in his reaction, the prosecution counsel, Jacobs pointed out to the judge that four different lawyers have been engaged by the defendant, allegedly in his efforts to scuttle the hearing of the case.

He also submitted that “This is not a case that the Lagos State Attorney-General can take over because the main counts of the charge are on Federal laws.

“Section 211 limits the State AG to the takeover of state offenses and this power cannot be extended to Section 174 which involves federal offenses.

“The Attorney-General’s letter to this court was written without hearing from us and the purpose was to shield the defendant from appearing before this court and when he is seized of the whole matter, he would change his mind,” the senior lawyer said.

The counsel also informed the judge that following the bench warrant issued by the court, the EFCC visited the Ikoyi office of the defendant but could not apprehend him.

“We also visited his house up to three times before we heard that he sneaked out of the country. Then they reported the matter to the AGF who invited me to brief him on the facts of the case and after the briefing, he gave the EFCC the go-ahead to proceed.

“A petition against this case by another of the defendant’s lawyers, Ikpeazu dated 15th Nov. was also sent to the EFFC Chairman stating the grounds of their preliminary objection which is before the court. The EFCC chairman was also briefed by the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) and myself and after the review, he concluded that it was because of the bench warrant that the defendant did not want to appear before the court.

“By now 6 different eminent lawyers have been employed by the defendant showing various steps to scuttle the hearing of this case,” Jacobs added.

After listening to the submissions of all the lawyers in the matter, Justice Ijelu noted that the business of the court was for the arraignment of the defendant and that the prosecutor had told the court that the bench warrant could not be enforced because the defendant was out of the country.

He also noted that the defence counsel had informed the court that the defendant was in the United States of America for a life-threatening ailment.

“Having considered all submissions made by the lawyers, the court is of the view that the issue of representation by the learned prosecutor on record and that of the AG is an issue and has to be resolved,” the judge ruled.

Justice Ijelu, therefore, adjourned the case to January 29, 2024, for the resolution of representation and prosecution of the defendant.

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