Defendant’s absence stalls alleged £1m fraud trial

The trial of a man, Morufu Adewale (aka Gbegulerin Adelana), and six others who scammed a couple to the tune of £1,000,000 for the purpose of conducting prayers for spiritual cleansing of the family, was, on Monday, stalled due to the absence of the fifth defendant.

Adewale was arraigned alongside Omitogun Ajayi, Ajisegiri Abiodun, Abayomi Alaka (aka Dauda Usman Alashe), Taiwo Ahmed, Raufu Raheem, and Sanlabiu Teslim, before the Ikeja Special Offences Court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Adewale, Ajayi, Ajisegiri and Alaka were first arraigned on February 3, 2022, before Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo (retd.), while the three others were said to be at large.

However, the trial could not be concluded before the retirement of Justice Taiwo, which prompted the reassignment of the case file to Justice Rahman Oshodi.

Subsequently, the seven defendants were arraigned in December 2022, before Justice Oshodi on an amended three counts bordering on conspiracy and obtaining by false pretence, preferred against them by the EFCC.

They were alleged to have obtained the sum of £1m from Dr. and Dr. (Mrs) Lateef Oladimeji Bello, between May and July 2018, for the purpose of conducting prayers for spiritual cleansing of the family and that the money will be refunded after the prayers within one week, which pretence they knew to be false.

The defendants were also accused of obtaining the sum of N175m, from the couple between August and September 2018, for the purpose of conducting spiritual prayers and spiritual cleansing of their son and the family.

However, they pleaded “not guilty” to the charges against them and the trial commenced.

At the resumed hearing of the case on Monday, counsel for the EFCC, N.K. Ukoha, informed the court that his witness was in court and the prosecution was ready to proceed with the trial.

However, the fifth defendant, Ahmed, who was represented in court by his counsel, Babatunde Ojehomon, was absent as he was not produced by officers of the Ikoyi Correctional Centre.

Ukoha had 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.

He said, “One of the defendants is not in court, and we got intelligence late yesterday, (Sunday), that there is a grand plan to forestall today’s proceeding.

“We were just told casually this morning that the defendant is not well.”

 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.”

But counsel for the third and fourth defendants, Olalekan Ojo, (SAN), in his response, stated 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.

Meanwhile, the first defendant’s counsel, Adebayo Adegbite, as well as counsel for the second defendant, Oluseun Ojemohon; counsel for the sixth defendant, A. Apanisile; and counsel for the seventh defendant, Olalekan Idowu, all aligned with the submission of Ojo.

After listening to the arguments of the counsel, the trial judge asked one of the prison officials to tell the court why the defendant was absent from court.

Addressing the court, the prison official, Jonathan Oche, told the court that the defendant was sick.

He said, “From the information this morning, we were told that he was sick, and that they wanted to monitor his health till tomorrow when we would produce him, that there is still a date tomorrow.”

Ojemohon told the court that his client had yet to perfect his bail conditions, and that he was aware of the health condition of his client.

“He complained to me at the last sitting in December 1, 2023 that he was not feeling well, and pleaded with me to do everything I could to expedite the perfection of his bail.

“Last week 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 would not be brought to court today, (Monday), I would have demanded that they issued a medical report.”

He said he was aware that his client was sick and was being observed in the correctional centre clinic.

Consequently, Justice Oshodi ruled and directed the Maximum Security Custodial Centre to produce Ahmed.

He said: “I am satisfied by the reason given and I direct the Maximum Security Custodial Centre to produce the fifth defendant before this court on the earlier scheduled date.”

The case was adjourned till February 13, 2024, for continuation of trial.


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