€250m fraud: Absence of defence counsel stalls trial of late Malaysian, company in Lagos

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Late Richard

Justice Mojisola Dada of the Special Offences Court sitting in Ikeja, Lagos has adjourned till November 16, 2023, the trial of the late Tan Ah Chai Richard, a Malaysian, and his company, Coastal Asia Investments Limited, over a €250 million fraud, due to the absence of the defence counsel.

In a statement, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said that the trial judge adjourned the case on , on Friday, September 22.

Richard and his company were first arraigned by the EFCC on May 22, 2019, on a five-count charge bordering on forgery, use of false document, conspiracy to forge and an attempt to obtain money by false pretence to the tune of €250 million.

He had pleaded “not guilty” to the charges, thereby prompting the commencement of trial, which had seen the prosecution calling a witness.

However, in the course of the trial, Richard reportedly died in prison custody, thereby necessitating the need to amend the charges.

The prosecution had, therefore, approached the court, on January 28, 2022, with an amended charge.

One of the amended charges reads: “Tan Ah Chai Richard (Deceased),  Coastal  Asia Investments Limited and Dr. Sawang Jana (still at large), on or about the 27th September, 2018 at Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, with intent to defraud, conspired to commit felony, to wit: forgery of Swift Telex Advice dated 27th September, 2018, indicating transfer of the sum of €250,000,000.00 (Two Hundred and Fifty Million Euros) to Coastal Asia Investments Limited account with Polaris Bank Plc (formerly Skye Bank Plc), from HSBC Bank Plc, London, United Kingdom.”

At the proceedings on January 19, 2023, the defence had applied to the court to re-open its case, but the application had yet to be served on the prosecution.

Eventually, the defence counsel, A. Onifade, on June 9, 2023, moved the application of the defence seeking to open its case.

He had cross-examined the prosecution’s witness, John Yamah, an investigative officer of the EFCC, who had been subpoenaed.

Under cross-examination, the defence, through the witness, had tendered, in evidence, the international passport of the late Richard, which was admitted as exhibit by the court.

Onifade had further asked the witness about “a search note filled by him”.

“I am not aware that a search was conducted on his residence,” the witness had replied.

Thereafter, Onifade had informed the court that it was closing its case.

Consequently, the court had adjourned till September 22, 2023, for the adoption of final written address.

However, when the case came up on Friday, the defence counsel was absent.

The counsel for the EFCC, B.M. Isa, informed the court that the prosecution was yet to receive any process from the defence.

“I was informed by the court registrar that the defence counsel called that he would be unavoidably absent today, and they have not filed anything yet,” he said.

Justice Dada, therefore, adjourned till November 16, 2023, for the adoption of the final written address.

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John is a University of Lagos-trained journalist who has read almost every novel written by Chinua Achebe, Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown. He's an expert Scrabble and draughts player who is also excellent at swimming.
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