The trial of Chief Cletus Ibeto, Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, over an alleged N4.8 billion fraud, was halted on Monday at the Lagos High Court in Ikeja after the trial judge, Justice Ismail Ijelu, returned the case file to the court’s Chief Judge, Justice Kazeem Alogba.
Justice Ijelu informed counsel that the case could not progress until the Chief Judge decided on the many petitions filed by the defence contesting the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case and accusing him of bias.
Last year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged the defendant before the court alongside his companies, Ibeto Energy Development Company and Odoh Holdings Ltd, on a 10-count charge bordering on allegations of conspiracy, fraud, forgery, and fraudulent use of documents.
The planned arraignment of the defendant on the charge was, however, stalled on four occasions due to his failure to appear in court, although his lawyers represented him.
This prompted Justice Ijelu to accede to the prosecution’s request on November 3, 2023, to order the arrest of the businessman for allegedly refusing to appear to take his plea despite many undertakings by his lawyers to produce him in court.
The defendant subsequently challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal.
At the last hearing of the case in Dec. 2023, before Justice Ijelu however, the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Babajide Martins, who represented the Attorney-General in court, informed the court of a petition written by the law firm of Robert Clarke (SAN) seeking a review of the case file and the outright take-over of the case by the office of the Attorney-General.
The EFCC, however, rejected the move describing it as an attempt to scuttle the trial.
Jacobs had insisted that the Attorney-General’s letter was written without hearing from the EFCC and that the purpose was to shield the defendant from appearing before the court for his trial. He expressed confidence that when seized of the whole matter, the AG would change his mind.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Monday, Justice Ijelu said, “This case can not go on today because the case file has been returned to the Chief Judge due to the many petitions flying around. I advise parties to liaise with the administrative judge to know the next step to take in the case”.
The judge then adjourned the case indefinitely to await the decision of the various petitions written by the defendant.
Jacobs had told the Court of Appeal on January 15, 2024, that Chief Ibeto had approached the anti-graft agency seeking to enter a plea bargain arrangement and pay back the money he allegedly obtained from the nominal complainant, Chief Daniel Chukwudozie.
However, the defence lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, denied knowledge of the discussion. He told the appellate court that his client told him to continue with the appeal he filed to challenge the warrant of arrest issued against him by Justice Ijelu.