Law News
Ministerial screening stalls Indian’s trial for N32bn fraud

The ongoing trial of a Nigeria-based Indian businessman, Patrick Fernandez, before a Federal High Court in Lagos could not proceed on Tuesday due to the absence of his lawyer, Mr. James Ocholi (SAN).

Fernandez, alongside his three companies, is facing 56 counts in relation to perpetration of fraud against various Nigerian commercial banks to the tune of about N32bn.

Ocholi, his lawyer, who was last week screened for ministerial appointment by the Senate in Abuja, was not in court on Tuesday.

Ocholi’s colleague, Mr. Kayode Enitan, who appeared, told the court that the absence of the senior advocate was connected with his ongoing screening for ministerial appointment.

Enitan urged the trial judge, Justice John Tsoho, to grant an adjournment in the circumstance.

“My Lord, we have prepared for today. However, the events of the past two weeks which are still ongoing – and these have to do with the nomination and screening as a minister of the Federal Republic – made it impossible for him (Ocholi) to attend today.

“So, we crave the indulgence of My Lord for an adjournment, probably to a date in early December or January as may be convenient for My Lord, by which date if he (Ocholi) successfully becomes a minister, an arrangement would have been made for the representation of the 1st and 2nd defendants,” Enitan said.

But in response, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Adebisi Adeniyi, who said he had a witness in court, expressed displeasure that though the parties had been in court since morning, Enitan had to wait till the afternoon to disclose his intention to ask for an adjournment.

Adeniyi said since Enitan had indicated that he was holding brief for Ocholi, the judge should decline the prayer for an adjournment and allow trial to go on as scheduled.

Enitan, however, apologised and insisted on his prayer for an adjournment.

Justice Tsoho said it was a public knowledge that Ocholi was being screened for ministerial appointment, noting that Enitan had also tendered an apology.

Though the judge noted that the criminal trial, which began since 2008, deserved hearing without delay, he, however, adjourned till December 15, 2015, by which time Ocholi would have known his fate.

An investigator with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Adeniyi Adebayo, had in November last year, under cross-examination by Ocholi, narrated to the court how huge sums of money were discovered in Fernandez’ accounts with various banks.

Adebayo told the court that when the banks were interviewed, they informed the EFCC that the accused person applied for cheque discounting facility.

He said, “During interviews with the banks, we were informed by bank officials that the huge amounts were related to loans granted the accused, especially by Intercontinental Bank.”

Intercontinental Bank had since been dissolved and merged with Access Bank.

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