The N3.1bn money laundering case involving a former Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam, has been returned to a judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who had twice withdrawn from the case in 2016 and 2019.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Suswam, who currently represents Benue North-East in the Senate, alongside his then Commissioner of Finance, Omodachi Okolobia, on money laundering charges involving an alleged diversion of a total sum of N3,111,008,018.51 belonging to Benue State.
The money was said to have been stolen from the proceeds of the sale of shares owned by the Benue State Government.
The case made the second return to the judge following the February 19, 2020 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which ordered Justice Okon Abang to whom the case assigned late 2019 to withdraw from it and have it transferred back to Justice Mohammed.
On Thursday, the lawyer prosecuting the case on behalf of the EFCC, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, and Suswam’s lawyer, Chinelo Ogbozor, urged the court to adjourn the case continuation of trial by virtue of the Court of Appeal’s judgment.
On his part, Okolobia’s lawyer, Audu Aloga, who blamed the prosecution for the delay in the resumption of the trial, urged the court to either adjourn for trial or strike out the charges for want of diligent prosecution.
Responding to Aloga, the prosecuting counsel described the application for the striking out of the charges as unfortunate and baseless.
Justice Mohammed jettisoned the request for the striking out of the case and fixed September 30 for continuation of trial.
Justice Mohammed first withdrew from the case on June 6, 2016, citing an online publication that accused him of compromise to give Suswam a “soft landing”.
But he reversed his decision and thereafter continued with it after the defence and the prosecuting teams prevailed on him through the then Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta, to continue handling the case.
However, the judge, in a letter dated July 5, 2019, again withdrew from the case and returned the case file to the court’s Chief Judge, Justice John Tsoho, for re-assignment to another judge.
The Chief Judge of the court then re-assigned the case to Justice Abang who has since been presiding over the case with four prosecution witnesses already presented by the EFCC within a short period.
But Suswam, an incumbent senator, appealed against the Chief Judge’s decision.
His appeal was partly upheld by the Court of Appeal which, despite adjudging Justice Abang as having shown “commendable diligence in the trial”, made an order directing the Federal High Court’s Chief Judge to return the case to Justice Mohammed.