I need more time to settle with EFCC – Ayeni

A former chairman of the defunct Skye Bank Plc (now Polaris Bank), Mr Tunde Ayeni, on Monday pleaded with Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court in Abuja for more time to conclude settlement talks with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over the money laundering charges the agency instituted against him in March.

Ayeni, through his lawyer, Dele Adesina (SAN), said he needed about one and a half months to conclude the talks.

The EFCC had, on March 7, 2019, arraigned Ayeni alongside a former managing director of Skye Bank, Timothy Oguntayo, and two companies, Control Dredging Company and Royaltex Paramount Ventures Limited, before the Federal High Court in Abuja.

The defendants pleaded not guilty to the 10 counts of money laundering involving alleged fraudulent withdrawal of funds running into billions of naira from the bank’s suspense account.

Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu granted bail to Ayeni and Oguntayo in the sum of N100m with one surety each.

Ayeni, through his lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), had asked for time from the judge to explore an out-of-court settlement of the matter. The judge granted the request.

But at the resumed hearing of the case on Monday, the EFCC’s counsel, Suraj Saeda (SAN), said the defence had not had any discussion with the commission since July this year when the matter was adjourned on the request by the defence to explore the out-of-court settlement option.

“Today is supposed to be for a report of the settlement; but there has not been any approach regarding settlement. Accordingly, my lord, we are ready to proceed to trial,” Saeda said.

Although Adesina, who led Ayeni’s defence team on Monday, confirmed that the defence had yet to engage the EFCC in the talk, he said there was an ongoing discussion with the bank at the end of which the EFCC would be involved.

Adesina said, “The first defendant (Ayeni) had a discussion with me on Friday and briefed me how far he had gone with the bank, not with the EFCC. Yes, the first defendant has not approached the EFCC. So, my learned brother for the prosecution was only saying it as it is when he said we have not approached the EFCC.

“Once there is a truce between the bank and the defence, we then go to the EFCC.

“In order to make this come to fruition, we plead that you give us another opportunity.”

He added, “I think the bank is more interested in recovering its money than having somebody jailed.”

Oguntayo’s lawyer, Wale Akoni (SAN), adopted the views expressed by Adesina.

But the prosecuting counsel insisted that the defendants’ acts which formed the charges were criminal infraction.

He said, “The defence has not approached the EFCC either for plea bargain or any form of settlement.”

He requested that the trial should proceed.

But the judge said she could not order the trial to proceed because the prosecution did not give prior notice to the court that the settlement talks had broken down.

She adjourned till November 21 for “report of settlement.”

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