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Court of Appeal
Rita Garuba

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) released the names of 12 lawyers that were shortlisted for appointments as judges of the Court of appeal after a rigorous two-day screening that involved 187 lawyers.

The NBA clarified in a statement that the screening was in response to the call by the president of the Court of Appeal to nominate “suitably qualified candidates” considered for appointment as judges in the Court of Appeal.

One of the finalists, Rita Chris-Garuba once Rita Kuku as revealed by an investigation was charged in 2000 for a bunch of professional delinquency, putting clients funds for personal use and a £250,000.00 mortgage fraud in the united kingdom where she worked as a solicitor included.

The Law Society of England and Wales labeled Mrs. Rita as lacking the integrity” and “probity and trustworthiness” expected of a legal practitioner and successively struck her name off the roll of solicitors.

The Law Society is the professional body of solicitors in England and Wales. It regulates conducts of solicitors as well as protects the public from dishonest practitioners.

Mrs. Rita was admitted to the Nigerian bar in 1980. She moved to the UK in 1995.

After practicing as a registered foreign lawyer in the country for a while, she fit as a solicitor in August 1998. But barely six months after she was admitted as a solicitor, she ran into trouble after she, alongside her partner, Axel Nares, was charged with fraud, and “conducts unbefitting of a solicitor” before a three-person tribunal of the Law Society chaired by J.C Chesterton.

Charges against Mrs. Rita and Mr. Nares attained from the Law Society were filed by Peter Cadman of the office of the Supervision of Solicitors on the 27th of January 1999. Mr. Cadman further presented a supplementary list of allegations against the duo on the 20th of February 2000.

They were both with utilizing clients’ funds for their own use; drawing money from client’s account above what was permitted by Rule 7 of the Solicitors Accounts Rule 1991, and the failure to keep account properly written up for the purpose of Rule 11.

They were also charged with the misuse of clients’ funds. Other charges against them were the use of client’s fund for the purpose of other clients, and unreasonable delay in the conduct of professional business.

Mrs. Rita was precisely charged with misleading a client as well as obtaining a mortgage by deception.

The trial opened on June 20, 2000, but hearing proper started on June 23, 2000 at 10 a.m. at the Court Room, Gate House 1, Farringdon Street, London.

The charges against Mrs. Rita and Mr. Nares were considered so grave that the hearing continued for over 10 hours and did not end until 8.20 pm. Mrs. Rita did not raise any objection to the long hearing, she even turned down an offer by the tribunal to take a break, indicating she had no need for one.

The investigation into the accounts of her law firm, Temple Chambers, by the Law Society’s Monitoring and Investigative Unit began in July 1997, at the time when Mrs. Rita was a registered foreign lawyer in the UK handling investment matters. The tribunal was told that Mrs. Rita obtained a mortgage by deception.

In March 1996, she purchased a property at luxury High View Gardens, Cyprus with the help of a £150,000.00 mortgage gotten from Preferred Mortgages using her full name at the time, Rita Ifeyinwa Kuku. However, she fell short of her mortgage repayment and amassed arrears.

Not wanting to lose the property due to amassed arrears, she arranged for the sale of the property to herself, using her maiden name, Chukwuma, with a mortgage advance from another company, Abbey National Building Society. Though, the date of birth she used when applying for the first mortgage with her married name was different from the one she used when applying with her maiden name.

When applying for the new mortgage, she used an identity card that identified her as a marketing consultant instead of a lawyer. She also used different addresses in the applications.

She admitted to the tribunal that she was both the vendor and purchaser of the property and that she had kept accounts under her married name and maiden name. She said she had put in £100,000.00 of her own into the property.

Mrs. Rita explained that just before the transactions, she had been divorced from her husband and had suffered “considerable trauma” and was in a sorry emotional state”. She told the tribunal that she and her children did not receive any maintenance from her former husband and that she was scared he would be able to claim a substantive portion of her property as a result of the divorce.

She further told the tribunal that the new mortgage cut her monthly repayment from £2,071.00 to £1,000.00. She said after rebuying the property, she continued to repay the new mortgage faithfully and did not fall into arrears.

On why she used different dates of birth when applying for the mortgages, she explained that it was a genuine error or the misreading of her handwriting and that she had not intended to use an incorrect date of birth and on why she used a different address to apply for the new mortgage, she claimed that she only became aware that her broker used a different address upon receiving the statement of offer from Abbey National Building Society. She admitted that the use of a different address instead of her residence would create the impression that she had hatched an elaborate charade to deceive, which was not what she intended.

Her explanation fell flat on its face as the tribunal described the mortgage deal as being “extraordinary”.

“The tribunal commented in particular upon the extraordinary behavior of Mrs. Kuku in arranging a transaction in which she apparently transferred property from herself to herself using her married name on one hand and her maiden name on the other hand and where she went to the length of instructing separate firms of solicitors to act in connection with the sale and with the purchase. The tribunal had no doubt at all that that had been a dishonest course of dealing,” the Law Society stated.

As at July 8, 1997, an investigative accountant discovered a minimum shortage of £1,841.68 in a client’s account handled by Mrs. Rita. She told the tribunal she had partly paid back the money on July 30, 1997 by a lodgment of £840.00 from her own money. She said the remaining money will be covered by charges for cost due to the firm.

The tribunal was also told that Mrs. Rita made the following withdrawals totaling £5,717.69 from a client’s account in contravention of the Solicitors Accounts Rule: an unallocated £4,550.00 was transferred from client to office bank account; £950 unallocated payment for personal use, £217.96 in bank interest incorrectly debited to client’s account.

Further, the investigative accountant discovered that between March 24 and June 3 1997, six transfers changing between £200.00 and £1,550.00 and totaling £4,500.00 were made from client account to office account. The discovery also showed that none of the withdrawal was allocated to any individual account in the client ledger.

During the hearing, Mrs. Rita’s only explanation for why the unallocated transfers were made from client’s accounts was that they might have been made in error, a record of the trial noted.

In one instance, the tribunal was told that Mrs. Rita acted for a client simply identified as Mr. H, who purchased a property in Manchester worth £67,450.00. The transaction was closed on June 3, 1998. On June 9, 1998 the client’s account was charged £1,050 for stamp duty. When queried about the transaction, Mrs. Rita admitted that the payment did not represent the statutory one per cent charged for stamp duty. She claimed the payment was not related to the matter.

“Mrs. Kuku was at the time of the inspection unable to attribute the payment of £1,050.00 to any other client matter and agreed that the payment gave rise to a shortage on client’s bank account of £1,050.00,” the Law Society noted.

She further admitted to the tribunal that she did not keep proper account as stipulated by Solicitors Accounts Rule 11.

She also admitted that she drew money from clients’ accounts in excess of what she was permitted. But she denied that she used the money withdrawn for her own purposes.

But the tribunal ruled that she had done as exactly as she was accused.

“It was clear from the Monitoring and Investigation Officer’s report that the books of the account of the firm had not been kept properly written up and that Rules 7 and 8 of the Solicitors Accounts Rules had not been complied with,” the tribunal stated.

“The Tribunal found that Mrs. Kuku had utilized clients funds for her own purposes as that were the inevitable consequence of money being transferred from client account to her own account.”

The tribunal then ruled that Mrs. Rita and her partner, acted in manner unbecoming of solicitors, and in ways contrary to what the public has come to expect from legal practitioners and thus ruled that they be struck off the roll of solicitors.

“The Tribunal considered it right in respect of each of the respondents that he and she should be struck off the Roll of solicitors. Neither of them had behaved with the integrity, probity and trustworthiness which members of the public were entitled to expect, and the profession demanded, of a member of a solicitors’ profession.”

Mrs. Chris-Garuba, who is married to a former military governor of Bauchi State, Chris Garuba, alongside her husband, were also mentioned in the notorious Halliburton bribery scandal.

A leaked file about the scandal obtained by French Newspaper Le Monde and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed a strong link between Mrs. Chris-Garuba, her husband, and a mysterious individual identified as Abu Shuiabu and Jeffery Tesler, a UK lawyer who used a network of secretive banks and offshore tax havens to funnel $182 million in bribes to top Nigerian officials in exchange for a $6 billion contract to build Nigeria’s liquefied natural gas company.

The names of Mr. Shuaibu and the Garubas were listed along with Mr. Tesler’s in an account named Bridlington Enterprises Limited, a shell company based in Gibraltar.

The mysterious 65-year-old Shuaibu, who gave his address as P.O Box 53322, Ikoyi WAN-Lagos, ran Bridlington’s accounts, making several cash withdrawals from HSBC in Switzerland.

On November 11, 2005 – he visited the bank to request a transfer of $600,000 to an unknown individual.

Despite the indictments, however, Mrs. Chris-Garuba, and the 11 other nominees, await confirmation by the President of the Court of Appeal for their new positions.

 

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