Lagos - Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of a Federal High Court, Lagos, on Tuesday disqualified Vitalis Ahaotu, the prosecutor in the trial of a former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, charged with money laundering.
The judge disqualified the prosecutor because he lacked the fiat (authority) of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to prosecute the case.
Ahaotu is a counsel in the firm of Festus Keyamo and Co., and was prosecuting the case on behalf of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The judge held that there was doubt as to whether the A-G had issued a fiat to the chambers of Keyamo to prosecute the case on its behalf.
"There is no doubt that the A-G has the power to issue a fiat to any lawyer to prosecute a case on his behalf, but the prosecutor has shown no evidence of delegation in this respect.
"The prosecutor claims it possesses the fiat of the A-G, when in fact it has not been exhibited before this honourable court.
"I hold that Ahaotu cannot continue to represent the Federal Republic of Nigeria in this case," the judge said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the court’s ruling followed the contention raised over whether the prosecution had the authority of the A-G to prosecute the former minister.
Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), representing the defendant, had on June 6, challenged the appearance of the prosecutor in the case.
Adedipe had argued that it was not clear whether Ahaotu was prosecuting on behalf of the Federal Government or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Immediately after the ruling, another counsel from the firm of Keyamo, Mr Alexander Opako, had urged the court to fix a trial date, to enable his principal-- Keyamo-- appear personally.
The defence counsel, Wale Akoni (SAN), however, objected to this application.
Akoni noted that since the court had ruled that the prosecution had no fiat, the charge becomes incompetent.
He, therefore, urged the court to strike out the charge accordingly.
Ofili-Ajumogobia in a short ruling, said she would make no pronouncement on the issue, since Keyamo was not before the court to justify his representation.
She, however, ordered the court’s Deputy Chief Registrar to write a letter to the office of the A-G, to settle the issue of representation of the complainant within three days of making the pronouncement.
The judge also ordered hearing notices to be served on Keyamo.
She adjourned the case till July 8 for mention.
NAN recalls that Fani-Kayode has been standing trial on a 47-count charge of money laundering.
He was accused of making transactions with funds exceeding N500 000 without going through a financial institution.
The former minister was also alleged to have accepted cash payments of about N230 million.
He, however, pleaded not guilty to all the counts and was granted bail.