Alleged N4.8bn Fraud: Judge returns Ibeto’s case file to Chief Judge

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The trial of the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, Chief Cletus Ibeto, over an alleged N4.8 billion fraud, was on Monday stalled at the Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja owing to the return of the case file by the trial judge, Justice Ismail Ijelu, to the Chief Judge of the court, Justice Kazeem Alogba.

Justice Ijelu told lawyers that the case could 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. Last year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) 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.

The planned arraignment of the defendant on the charge was, however, stalled on four occasions due to his failure to appear in court, although his lawyers represented him. 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. The defendant subsequently challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal.

At the last hearing of the case in Dec. 2023, before Justice Ijelu however, the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Babajide Martins, who represented the Attorney-General in court, 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 take-over of the case by the office of the Attorney-General. The EFCC, however, rejected 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 for his trial. He expressed confidence that when seized of the whole matter, the AG would change his mind.

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