Monday, April 19, 2021

Nigeria: Disgraced federal high court judge re-arraigned over corruption charges


The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has re-arraigned a dismissed judge of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, Mohammed Yunusa, at an Ikeja Special Offences Court.

The Commission also arraigned Esther Agbo, a member of staff of the law chambers of Rickey Tarfa (SAN).

The two are facing fresh eight-count charges of corruption.

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They were initially arraigned on a five-count corruption charge on January 17, 2018.

Mr Yunusa had faced a four-count charge of attempted perversion of the course of justice and corruption by a public official, while Ms Agbo was charged with offering gratification to a public official

On Tuesday, Mr Yunusa faced fresh charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice, corruption by a public official, use of office or position for gratification, gratification by a public official, corrupt demands by persons.

Ms Agbo on the other hand faced fresh charges of offering gratification to a public officer and corrupt offer to a public officer.

They both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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The lead EFCC prosecutor, Wahab Shittu, said Mr Yunusa, while serving as a judge of the Federal High Court, engaged in constant and confidential counsel with Mr Tarfa.

“Tarfa was the counsel to the applicants in suit no FHC/L/CS/714/2015 between Mr Adewale Adeniyi vs EFCC and two others, suit no FHC/L/CS/715/2015 between Rena Prestige Industries and another vs EFCC and two others.

“He was also the counsel in suit no FHC/L/CS/716/2015 between Hair Prestige Manufacturing Ltd and three others vs EFCC and two others during the time Yunusa presided over these matters as a judge.

“On May 14, 2015, Yunusa received N1.5million paid into his UBA account number 1005055617 by Esther Agbo, a staff of Rickey Tarfa and Co on account of favour or disfavour being shown in relation to cases handled by the law chambers in the cases before him,” he said.

The EFCC said Mr Yunusa, between March 2015 and September 2015, received N750,000 in his UBA account from a former SAN, Joseph Nwobike.

“Agbo on May 14, 2015, corruptly deposited N1.5million into the UBA account of Yunusa to ensure favour or disfavour be shown in relation to cases handled by the law chambers of Rickey Tarfa (SAN) and Co in the cases before Yunusa,” Mr Shittu said.

The offences contravene sections 63(1)(b), 64 (1), 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos 2011 and sections 9(1)(a) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000.

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Following the re-arraignment, a prosecution witness and an EFCC investigator, Daniel Danladi, narrated how Mr Yunusa allegedly had illegal communication with Mr Tarfa.

While being led in evidence by Mr Shittu, Mr Danladi interpreted the contents of Exhibit A1, one of the evidences against the defendants before the court.

“The evidence in Exhibit A1 was generated from the two mobile phones of Rickey Tarfa (SAN) using a celebrite extractor to do the extraction which was done in our office.

“The document contains information like text messages, photographs and other communications with Rickey Tarfa (SAN) and several individuals, including the first defendant (Yunusa). The communications are numerous. I will highlight one or two.

“On April 19, 2015, Tarfa sent a text message to the first defendant’s two mobile phones where he supplied the charge number of a particular case and details of another case.

“The suit number Tarfa provided was FHC/CS/75/2000 for Menasa Nigeria Ltd vs KPMG and Peat Marwick vs Ogunde and Co.

“Another text message was sent on June 25, 2015 where the said Mr Rickey Tarfa (SAN) received a text message from the first defendant (Yunusa), saying “Learned SAN, thank you,” Mr Danladi said.

The EFCC investigator was presented with four exhibits by the prosecution; Exhibit F, Exhibit G, Exhibit H and Exhibit K.

The witness told the court that all the exhibits were court processes of suits which were adjudicated by Mr Yunusa.

He said Exhibit F were court processes between Adewale Adeniyi vs the EFCC, Alice Boulus vs Rasheedatu Abdul, FHC/L/CS/715/2015.

Exhibit G was the court processes of Rena Prestige Industries Nigeria Ltd and one other and the EFCC vs Alice Boulus and Rasheedat Abdul, suit number FHC/CS/715/2015.

Exhibit H is the court process of Jide Adelakun and one other vs Chairman of the EFCC, FHC/L/CS/1285/2015. Exhibit K is the court process of Federal Republic of Nigeria vs Joseph Nwobike on suit number LD/3516C/2016.

“Exhibit F is dated May 15, 2015, Exhibit G is dated May 26, 2015, Exhibit H is dated Sept. 23, 2025 and Exhibit K is dated April 30, 2018.

“These cases were pending before the first defendant (Yunusa) when the communications were made between the first defendant and Rickey Tarfa (SAN).

“The payment of N1.5 million on May 14, 2015 by Esther Agbo, who was then an employee of Mr Rickey Tarfa confirmed the tendency of Exhibit F and G which were two suits before the first defendant.

“The lodgement of N250,000 on March 19 2015 came from Dr Joseph Nwobike (SAN) who had interest in the suit marked Exhibit K.

“The finding of the investigation is that the monies and the communication were to influence one way or the other, these cases that were pending before the first defendant,” Mr Danladi said.

The EFCC investigator told the court that Mr Yunusa, while being interrogated by the commission, said the payment of N750,000 by Mr Nwobike was for the treatment of his ailing mother.

“On the payment of N1.5 million, he said he did not know anybody called Esther Agbo and he could not confirm the lodgement of the funds,” Mr Danladi said.

While being cross-examined by the counsel to Ms Agbo, John Odubela (SAN), Mr Danladi was queried about whether the suits were pending before the former judge as he had claimed before the N1.5million deposit was made by Ms Agbo into Mr Yunusa’s account.

“The N1.5million was paid on May 14, 2015, you said the suits were pending before the first defendant when the money was paid.

“Exhibit G was filed on May 26, 2015, the deposit was on May 14, 2015, this suit filed on May 26, 2015 was not pending.

By your evidence, it is not accurate to state that Exhibit H, G and K were not pending before May 14, 2015,” Mr Odubela said.

Responding, Mr Danladi told the court that although all the suits were not pending before the first defendant, the N1.5 million was paid before all the suits in the exhibits were filed.

“Exhibit F was filed on May 15, 2015 a day after the N1.5million lodgement was made. The money was paid a day earlier than filing so it was still pending.

“The date of the payment of the money precedes the date of the filing of the suit which was on May 26, 2015, and as a result it was not pending.

”Exhibit H which was filed on Sept. 24, 2015 was not pending.
Exhibits H and K were filed several days later.

“Though actions may be pending before this case, the payment of that N1.5million was in the interest of those cases as they were all filed after the lodgement of the money,” Mr Danladi said.

The judge, Sherifat Solebo, adjourned the case until Wednesday for continuation of trial.


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