High Court judge Eric Ogola has recused himself from a suit filed by a law firm against I&M Bank for freezing its accounts over suspicion that it was laundering funds stolen from the National Youth Service (NYS).
The judge on Monday opted out of the suit filed by Ogola & Mujera Advocates - the law firm accused of helping controversial businessman Ben Gethi to launder proceeds of a Sh791 million theft - seeking to regain access to its three bank accounts held at I&M’s 2nd Ngong Avenue branch.
Justice Ogola cited “personal reasons” for his disqualification and has ordered that the case be heard by another judge.
The judge barred media from covering proceedings of the case on Monday, ordering that the suit be heard in camera. He however did not specify reasons for the move.
I&M Bank last month unfroze the accounts held by Ogola & Mujera Advocates in its 2nd Ngong Avenue Branch.
Ogola & Mujera sued I&M for freezing its accounts, arguing that there was no court order compelling it to do so at the time Patrick Ogola, a partner at the law firm, instructed it to transfer Sh27 million to Hong Kong for a clothes purchase deal.
“By irregularly and without any known legal basis refusing to effect the transfer and dishonouring transactions or cheques duly issued by Ogola & Mujera Advocates, I&M Bank has chosen of its own volition to freeze the plaintiff’s accounts and has prevented the plaintiff from effecting lawful transfers,” the law firm argues.
The bank has however agreed to have the accounts unfrozen as the suit progresses, on condition that the law firm does not interfere with a disputed Sh26.9 million deposit that attracted the block.
Investigators have accused Ogola & Mujera Advocates of helping Mr Gethi launder Sh585 million allegedly stolen from the NYS.
Other law firms cited by investigators in the alleged laundering include Glinnis Kigera & Company, Martin Muthomi Gitonga & Company and Waweru Kihara Company Advocates.
Investigators from the Banking Fraud Investigation Unit (BFIU) hold that Mr Gethi used the law firm as a proxy in acquiring assets, which include a state-of-the-art Range Rover and several parcels of land, as part of a scheme to launder the funds he allegedly stole from the NYS.
The controversial businessman allegedly used one of his acquaintances - John Kago - to wire funds to Ogola & Mujera, which then bought property registered to his mother and sister.
The Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) has since filed a suit seeking to recover Sh585 million from Mr Gethi. It also wants to join the case Ogola & Mujera has filed against I&M Bank, arguing that the amount could be from the sale of the Range Rover that is among assets it wants to seize from Mr Gethi.