Friday, 23 February 2018

EFCC amends corruption charges against Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Friday amended the 30-count charge against Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, a federal judge, by adding an additional count.

Rotimi Oyedepo, the EFCC counsel, said the amendment became imperative due to new evidence uncovered during investigations.

At the last court sitting, Abdullahi Lawal, an EFCC investigator, while giving evidence said a Customs official paid N12 million into Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia’s bank account. The judge had sustained an objection to the witness’s statement on the grounds that it was unrelated to the charges before the court.

Mr. Oyedepo said the amendment of the charge is in line with the application for amendment of information filed on February 22. The count was increased in the new charge from 30 to 31 and the defendants were asked to renew their plea.

The EFCC had arraigned Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia and Godwin Obla, a senior lawyer and a former prosecutor for the EFCC, on two counts of perverting the course of justice.

Mr. Obla is facing additional two counts of offering gratification of N5 million to Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia while the latter was serving as a judge.

Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia was further charged with a 26-count of unlawful enrichment, taking property by a public officer, corruption, forgery, and giving false information to an official of the EFCC.

While cross-examining Mr. Lawal on Friday, Robert Clarke, counsel to Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia asked if the EFCC operative had checked the National Judicial Policy and whether he would be surprised to know that the policy of the federal government is that a judicial officer is entitled to receive gifts whether money, land or any gift.

In his response, Mr. Lawal said, “I am aware of customary gifts maybe during Xmas, New Year and so. I’m not aware they can receive monetary gifts and co.”

Asking if he knew there is a distinct difference between a public officer and a judicial officer, stating that they continually referred to the first defendant, Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia, as a public officer, Mr. Lawal said, “I am not a lawyer and didn’t draft the charges. There is no difference. A judicial officer is a public officer. You are either employed by the government (public) or private.”

Mr. Clarke probed further, “Do you know the background of the first defendant? Twenty-one of the charges is on unlawful enrichment, what would you refer to as lawful income of a judge? If she receives money from her shares from investments in her early years, how would you qualify it?”

In response, Mr. Lawal said, “A judge’s lawful income is from the employer. If the money used to buy the stock are legitimate then the dividend is legitimate.”

On how he came to the conclusion that the money paid to the judge by Mr. Obla constituted unlawful enrichment, the witness said the second defendant was prosecuting a case before the first defendant at the time he paid the money to her.

“There was no business transaction between the first defendant and second defendant’s companies. Also there was a meeting between them in which account number was exchanged in the absence of the defence counsel. Justice Ajumogobia initially denied knowing Godwin Obla and later claimed it was for goods. The second defendant, Godwin Obla, denied the claim the first defendant made on the purpose of the payment.”

On the monies he gave evidence in court as being paid by Custom officials, Mr. Clarke asked if the witness was aware that the Customs had come to court and given evidence that they didn’t know the purpose for the payment, the witness said he was not aware they had given such evidence in court.

Mr. Clarke also asked if the witness was aware that one Chief Gregory, a former employer of the judge had given evidence in court that the N18 million he paid into the judge’s account was a loan.

Mr. Lawal replied, “Chief Gregory said the money from him was a loan but I believe its unlawful enrichment. The payment was not a gift. The loan was collected with the intention of not repaying because she stopped picking his calls and used it for deposit on her property abroad.”

Pleading fatigue, Mr. Clarke requested for an adjournment to continue the cross examination of Mr. Lawal.

The judge, Hakeem Oshodi, adjourned till March 23 for continuation of cross examination of the witness.

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