…as court adjourns trial till May 10
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Thursday, deferred further hearing on the 32-count money laundering charge the Federal Government preferred against former governor of Benue State, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, till May 10.
Trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole equally granted FG’s request to file additional proof of evidence against Suswam who piloted the affairs of Benue State between 2007 and 2011.
FG is prosecuting the former governor alongside the erstwhile Commissioner of Finance in the state, Mr. Omadachi Oklobia, and the then Accountant of Benue State Government House Administration, Mrs. Janet Aluga.
The defendants were in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/48/2017, and endorsed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, accused of diverting the sum of N9,791,602,453.8, part of which was meant for police reform programme, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme SURE-P.
FG said it had upon an investigation that was conducted by the Police, uncovered that the fund was diverted between 2012 and 2015, while Suswam held sway as the governor of Benue State.
The charge against the defendants involves conspiracy, conversion of property derived directly from corruption; collaboration to conceal property derived from corruption; obtaining by false pretence and accepting cash payments exceeding the amount authorised by law.
The trio had on June 19, 2017, pleaded not guilty to the charge, even as the court granted them bail to the tune of N250million each with one surety in like sum.
The court equally seized their diplomatic and international passports.
At the resumed trial on Thursday, government lawyer, Mr. Aminu Akilu, sought for an adjournment to enable the prosecution to tender six documents showing how the sum of N450million was withdrawn from the state treasury in the guise that it was for the augumetation of 10 months running cost for the government house.
Part of the exhibits FG intends to tender before the court through the second prosecution witness, PW-2, Mr. Ochoga Peter Esuh, who was a Cashier at the Benue State Government House, included a voucher that was raised from the withdrawal.
Mr. Esuh had in his Evidence-in-Chief, told the court that he was among the team that went to pick the money from the back.
He said the money was taken to the government house and handed to one Emmanuel Awuga who he identified as “officer in charge of other charges”.
The defendants had through their lawyer, challenged the admissibility of the documents which they said was not frontloaded by FG along with other proofs of evidence, as prescribed in section 379 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
It will be recalled that the defendants had earlier opposed an application by FG to relocate their trial to Benue State where ingredients of the alleged crime were committed.
FG told the court that it would more convenient to try the defendants before the Makurdi Division of the high court since most of the witnesses reside in the state.
However, all the defendants challenged the request, saying they prefered to face their trial in Abuja.
Sequel to the objection, the prosecution agreed to continue the trial in Abuja on condition that the defendants would not raise the issue of jurisdiction at any stage of the proceeding.
Meantime, two of the charges against the defendants read: “That you, Rt. Hon. Gabriel T. Suswam (m), former Governor of Benue State of No. 1, Rio Negro Street, Maitama, Abuja, Omadachi Oklobia (m), former Commissioner for Finance of Flat 1, Block A13, Marathon Avenue, Games Village, Abuja and Janet Aluga (f), former Accountant , Benue State Government House Administration of David Mark Extension, Agber Village Makurdi, Benue State, between August 8, 2012 and March 16, 2015 at Makurdi, Benue State, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did conspire among yourselves to transfer a total sum of about N4,135,208,404.90, from the Benue State SURE-P account number 0116099195, domiciled in Guaranty Trust Bank into various illegal accounts with the aim of concealing the money which you derived directly from corruption.
“That you, Rt. Hon. Gabriel T. Suswam (m), former Governor of Benue State of No. 1, Rio Negro Street, Maitama, Abuja, Omadachi Oklobia (m), former Commissioner for Finance of Flat 1, Block A13, Marathon Avenue, Games Village, Abuja and Janet Aluga (f), former Accountant , Benue State Government House Administration of David Mark Extension, Agber Village Makurdi, Benue State, between August 8, 2012 and March 16, 2015 at Makurdi, Benue State, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did collaborate to conceal the genuine nature and origin of a total sum of about N7,110,537,823.78 wic you moved from, from the Benue State SURE-P account numbers 1013470079 anaccount number 0116099195, domiciled in Zenith Bank Plc and Guaranty Trust Bank respectively into various illegal accounts being money you derived from corruption”.