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Court orders ex-Punch Newspaper staff, others to stand trial for ₦950m fraud

According to reports, Ogunbanjo had been arraigned before a Sabo-Yaba Chief Magistrate’s Court on March 10, 2023, for alleged ₦950 million fraud.

Court orders ex-Punch Newspaper staff, others to stand trial for ₦950m fraud

Other defendants in the suit numbered ID/21559C/2023 are Olawunmi Ogunbanjo, Vaneloo International Ltd., Valeco Global Ventures, Bagco Garba, Taofeek Ogunbanjo, Ifeanyi Odogwu, Bound Media Ltd., and Godwin Benson.

Justice Ismail Ijelu in his ruling said the court had thoroughly examined the information and proof of evidence in the case and formed the view that its jurisdiction to entertain the case was intact.

Ijelu said the applicant/defendant’s objection was unmeritorious as he failed to establish that the prosecution in the case engaged in an improper use of the judicial process to interfere with the efficient and effective administration of justice.

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According to him, the court has been empowered to make restraining orders such as interim order which has the effect of freezing the property thereby preventing the suspect from dealing with proceeds of crime by him or a third party on his behalf, pending the determination of the case.

He said: “The defendant/applicant stated that the prosecution filed a charge against him at the Magistrate Court three and one at Yaba and there is information before Justice Nicole-Clay filed before the case was brought before this court.

“In responding to this fact, the respondent stated that the criminal charge against the first defendant/applicant at the Magistrate Court had since been discontinued and this was not disputed by the first defendant/applicant.

“The defendant/applicant's contention seemed to be that the fact that charges were filed at different times in different courts constitutes an abuse of the court process.

“This might be so in civil matters, however, this contention failed to have regard to the fact that trials are yet to start in these cases.”

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The judge said abuse in criminal cases would result if after filing the same charge in different courts, the prosecution began trials in all of them simultaneously, without discontinuing one or the other.

He said it was so because the attorney general had the discretion as to which court a defendant was to be prosecuted.

According to him: “The fact that he chooses to file information at the high court when a matter is pending at Magistrate court, does not amount to an abuse of court process, as the charge at the magistrate court has been technically discontinued upon filing information at the high court, on similar facts against the defendant.

“The fact that the defendant/applicant filed a fundamental right action at the federal high court does not mean that a criminal action can not proceed.

“It can proceed simultaneously and fundamental rights action can not used to shield a person against criminal prosecution.

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“The applicant’s ground that no proof of evidence or hearing notice was served on him is of no moment as the court has the power to grant interim forfeiture ex-parte even in the absence of the charge.”

The judge further said that publication was made to the member of the public Including the first defendant which was done within 14 days but the first defendant did not obey the order.

“There is nothing before the court to show compliance by the defendant.

“Rather than comply with the order of the court, he chose to challenge the jurisdiction of the court.

“This court has thoroughly examined the information and proof of evidence in this case and formed the view that its jurisdiction to entertain this case is intact.

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“The objection of the first defendant is hereby overruled and he and other defendants shall be produced in court to take their plea,” he said.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that both counsels had on January 30 adopted their written addresses. Counsel to the first defendant/applicant, Charles Jiakponna, had challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case.

The Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Dr Babajide Martins, in his 11-paragraph counter-affidavit had prayed the court to dismiss the preliminary objection. He had said that the objection lacked merit.

NAN also reports that Ogunbanjo had been arraigned before a Sabo-Yaba Chief Magistrate’s Court on March 10, 2023, for alleged ₦950 million fraud.

Magistrate Adeola Olatubosun had granted him bail for ₦10 million with two sureties in like sum, following his not guilty plea to the three-count charge of obtaining by false pretences, forgery and stealing.

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Ogunbanjo is alleged to have obtained ₦450 million from one Olusola lkuyajesin and ₦500 million from one Durodola Balogun under false pretences of using the money to buy stationeries.

He also allegedly forged an organisation’s local purchase orders to carry out the acts, in contravention of Sections 287, 314 and 365 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015. The judge adjourned the case until March 14 for arraignment.

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