Absence of defendant stalls alleged £1m spiritual cleansing fraud trial
The trial of seven men charged with one million British Pounds spiritual cleansing fraud before an Ikeja Special Offences Court, was on Monday stalled due to the absence of the fifth defendant, Taiwo Ahmed.
Other defendants in the alleged fraud were Morufu Adewale (aka Gbegulerin Adelana), Omitogun Ajayi, Ajisegiri Abiodun, Abayomi Alaka (aka Dauda Usman Alashe), Raufu Raheem and Sanlabiu Teslim,
The defendants were re-arraigned on December 2022 on amended three counts of obtaining money under false pretences.
They had pleaded not guilty to the charge thus prompting the commencement of their trial.
When the case was called on Monday, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission counsel, Nwandu Ukoha, informed the court that his witness was in court and the prosecution was ready to proceed with the trial.
However, the fifth defendant, who was represented in court by his counsel, Babatunde Ojehomon, was absent because he was not produced by officers of the Ikoyi Maximum Correctional Centre.
Ukoha while addressing the court, raised an alarm that the absence of the fifth defendant was part of a well-orchestrated plan to forestall the trial.
“One of the defendants is not in court and we got intelligence late yesterday that there is a grand plan to forestall today’s proceeding.
“We were just told casually this morning that the defendant is not well,” he said.
Ukoha further prayed the court for a stand down so that the prosecution and one of the court’s registrars could go to the prisons to procure the fifth defendant to come for his trial.
Counsel for the third and fourth defendants, Olalekan Ojo (SAN), however, in his response, stressed vehemently that he was not and will never be part of any “grand plan” to forestall the trial.
“The proper procedure is to apply to the court that whoever is supposed to produce the absent defendant, which in this case is the prison official, should be called to explain why the defendant was not produced,” he said.
Counsel for the first defendant, Adebayo Adegbite; counsel for the second defendant, Mrs Oluseun Olugbemi-Fatomigbe; Ojemohon; counsel for the sixth defendant, Ade Apanisile and counsel for the seventh defendant, Olalekan Idowu, all aligned themselves with the submission of the learned silk.
Justice Rahman Oshodi, thereafter, called up one of the prison officials to shed light on the situation.
Addressing the court, the official, ASE1 Jonathan Oche, said the defendant was sick.
“From the information this morning, we were told that he was sick and that they want to monitor his health till tomorrow when we will produce him, that there is still a date tomorrow,” he said.
Ojemohon told the court that his client was yet to perfect his bail conditions and that he was aware of the health condition of his client.
He said: “He complained to me at the last sitting of December 1, 2023 that he was not feeling well and pleaded with me to do everything I can to expedite the perfection of his bail.
“Last Thursday, they called me that he fell in the toilet and smashed his head on the bowl of the toilet.
“I am not even aware that he will not be brought to court today, I would have demanded that they issue a medical report.
“So, I am aware that my client is sick and is being observed in the Correctional Services clinic.”
After listening to the submissions of all the parties involved in the case, Oshodi said he was satisfied with the reason given by the custodial centre and directed them to produce the fifth defendant at the next adjourned date.
The judge adjourned the case until February 13 for continuation of trial.
The EFCC alleged that the defendant in May 2018 in Lagos obtained the money from Dr and Mrs Lateef Bello to conduct prayers for spiritual cleansing for their son and family, promising that the money would be refunded after the prayers.
EFCC also submitted that the defendants allegedly collected the sum of N175 million from the nominal complainants for spiritual cleansing of their son and the family to be refunded one week after the prayers.
According to the commission, the alleged offence contravenes Section 1 (3) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006.