When his assets forfeiture trial in the United Kingdom begins on April 13, former Delta State Governor, James Onanefe Ibori, will be confronted by fresh evidence from former chairman of the Economic and financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
Ribadu, whose attention is currently taken up as Governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Adamawa State may be unable to attend the trial in person.
But the Crown (prosecutors) say Ribadu’s fresh evidence would be used against the former Governor who is currently serving a 13-year-sentence for money laundering in the UK over charges to which he had pleaded guilty.
Mr Anthony Pitts, the judge in charge of the £89m confiscation of assets hearing, disclosed on Monday that he had to put a surgical procedure on hold, to be available for the aborted hearing when it starts again on April 13.
The Southwark Crown Court judge revealed this in courtroom 14, when the pre-hearing sitting took place at 9.30.
The court was also told prosecutors would not call back Ribadu to come and give any evidence again. However, they will rely on the extra witness statement he had given them – after his appearance at the same court last year.
Monday’s sitting, though lasting not more than 90 minutes from half nine, was quite dramatic and perhaps a shape of things to come when the £89m case kicks off.
As soon as Pitts took his seat, proceedings were swiftly opened by the Crown (prosecution), Esther Schutzer-Wisemann, who on telling the court that the hearing would last between six and eight weeks, was interrupted by the judge, who said: “I was told six weeks,” adding: “I have an operation which I should be having now, but I pushed it back till the end of the six weeks,” in order to close the chapter on the case.
Apparently sensing that the case might go beyond the six weeks, the judge then informed both sides of the bench that: “I’m not pushing it back any further.”
Perhaps shocked by the disclosure, Schutzer-Wisemann, pledged that the prosecution would try to stick by the six weeks which had initially been communicated to the judge.
Ibori’s defence, led by Ivan Krolick, then opened from their side by accusing the Crown of not following what he claimed was an order by the judge.
He told the court that the prosecution had not given an indication of which part of the trial evidence they were going to rely on. He also accused them of not giving a “disclosure of all the evidence we had asked for.”
As if pleading for the judge to compel the crown to signpost them, Krolick said:” they haven’t told us which evidence they will rely on.
“Were the case to proceed ,” and he quickly noted that: “I’m not asking for an adjournment ,” the problem for them is: “we will have 66,000 pages to deal with.”
Seeing that the judge was not shifting ground nor intervening, Krolick disclosed: “ I’m not asking for an adjournment , but that – the judge make an order – by Wednesday of this week, they tell us what they intend to rely on.”
Krolick repeatedly tried to get the judge to compel the Crown to tell them which of the 66,000 trial evidence they would be relying on to no avail. He reminded the Pitts again that they weren’t asking to be spoon-fed by the Crown, but that; “all we want them to say is what they’re going to rely on in these proceedings.”
Continuing, he said: “We don’t ask for things which are not necessary,” and the reason for the request is because “we can’t cope with the enormous -quantity of – trial evidence.”
Apparently frustrated that the judge was doing nothing as he continued his address, the defence counsel then said: “I ask that the Crown be ordered to comply with the – said – order made against them,” to signpost their evidence.
The Crown then responded, reminding the court that “the Crown has always said over a year and a half ago that they will rely on all the trial evidence.”
Moreover, “it is not necessary to tell them which of the evidence “we’ll be relying on. What matters is that they are all available in court.”
However, she revealed that three policemen would give evidence.
The Crown’s lawyer also noted that:”since Mr Ribadu gave evidence to you last year and was cross-examined by all parties, they won’t be bringing him back for reasons, including cost and perhaps, his own availability.
But “what the Crown intends to do is they will ask your honour to read the notes,” and also the fresh evidence he gave them afterwards,” he said.
At that instance, Krolick stood up, asking if the Crown intended to use the “fresh evidence,” of Ribadu. The prosecutor replied “we will.”