The N3.1bn money laundering case involving a former Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam, has returned to Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja, after the judge withdrew himself from the case on two occasions.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Suswam, who currently represents Benue North-East in the Senate, along with his then Commissioner for Finance, Mr Omodachi Okolobia, for allegedly diverting and laundering a total sum of N3,111,008,018.51 belonging to Benue State.
The case made the second return to Justice Mohammed following a February 19, 2020 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which ordered Justice Okon Abang to return the case file to Justice Mohammed, who was the judge originally handling the case.
Justice Mohammed first withdrew from the case on June 6, 2016, citing a publication by SaharaReporters which alleged that the judge had been compromised to give Suswam a “soft landing.”
But after the defence and the prosecuting teams pressurised him, through the then Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta (retd.), Justice Mohammed rescinded his decision and took the case file back.
However, following another story published by SaharaReporters levelling similar allegation against him, the judge, in a letter dated July 5, 2019, again withdrew from the case.
The Chief Judge then re-assigned the case to Justice Abang.
Justice Abang had started hearing the case with four witnesses already called when the Court of Appeal, ruling on an appeal by Suswam to challenge Justice Mohammed’s withdrawal, ordered that the Justice Abang should stop hearing and return the case file to Justice Mohammed.
On Thursday, the lawyer prosecuting the case on behalf of the EFCC, Mr Oluwaleke Atolagbe, and Suswam’s lawyer, Chinelo Ogbozor, urged the court to adjourn for continuation of trial based on the Court of Appeal’s judgment.
On his part, Okolobia’s lawyer, Mr 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, the prosecutor described Aloga’s submission as “unfortunate and baseless.”
In a short ruling, the judge fixed September 30 for continuation of trial.