A Lagos Division of the Federal High Court has fixed June 6th and 9th for the commencement of the trial involving Nigeria’s former Aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, over allegations of money laundering and criminal conspiracy.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday rearraigned Mr. Fani-Kayode, who was part of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election campaign, alongside Nenadi Usman, a former minister of state for finance on a 17-count charge of money laundering and alleged diversion of N4.6 billion.
Others charged include one Danjuma Yusuf and a company, Joint Trust Dimension Nig. Ltd.
The defendants pleaded not guilty before Justice Rilwan Aikawa, a new judge.
The judge had taken over trial after Mr. Fani-Kayode applied for the previous one, Muslim Hassan, to recuse himself from the trial on the grounds that he was the EFCC officer who signed a criminal charge filed against him in 2008.
The defendants had been arraigned before Mr. Hassan in June 2016, but Mr. Fani-Kayode had raised concerns over whether the judge would be impartial during the matter. It is unclear if an incident during trial, in October 2016, when Mr. Hassan ordered the seizure of Mr. Fani-Kayode’s mobile phone after it rang out during proceedings, raised a red flag for the ex-minister.
The EFCC had prosecuted Mr. Fani-Kayode before Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia over allegations of money laundering to the tune of N100 million. At that time, Mr. Hassan worked as an EFCC legal officer before his eventual elevation to the bench.
After a trial that lasted seven years, Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia discharged and acquitted Mr. Fani-Kayode of all charges, a development the former minister said Mr. Hassan was unhappy about.
Last March, Mr. Hassan while withdrawing from the trial and declining making further decisions on it, insisted he had not been biased against Mr. Fani-Kayode.
“It is not in dispute that I signed Exhibit FFK1 as far back as 2008 over nine years ago, as the then Head of Legal, Lagos office of the EFCC, prior to my elevation as a judge of the Federal High Court,” Mr. Hassan had said in the ruling announcing his referral of the case back to the Chief Judge for reassignment to another judge.
“But it must be emphasized that as at then, I never participated in the trial of the second defendant (Fani-Kayode) and at all material times during the pendency of that case.”
A few weeks earlier, Mrs. Usman had applied to the court for an order separating the charges against her from Mr. Fani-Kayode, and also a transfer of her trial to the Abuja division of the federal court for convenience.
On Monday, Justice Aikawa allowed the defendants to continue on the bail granted them by the former judge and adjourned till June 6th and 9th for trial and ruling on whether the case would be transferred to Abuja.