From: Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The absence of a former Commissioner of Finance for Benue State, Omanachi Okolobia, in court, on Wednesday, stalled the trial of the immediate past Governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam, over alleged financial misappropriation before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
Suswam (1st defendant) and Okolobia, (2nd defendant) were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on a nine- count charge, bordering on money laundering to the tune of N3.1 billion.
The prosecution accused them of allegedly diverting proceeds of the sale of shares owned by Benue Government and Benue Investment and Property Company Limited, an offence which is punishable under Section 15 (3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.
At the resumed trial, on Wednesday, counsel to Okolobia, Samson Egede, who apologised to the court for the absence of his client, assured that the defense is taking all necessary steps to ensure that their clients is available to face his trial.
He told the trial Judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, that his client has been on remand since last Monday on the orders of Justice Gabriel Kolawole.
He said although the court had admitted Okolobia to bail, he was yet to meet the conditions attached. He then prayed the court for an adjournment to enable Okolobia meet his bail conditions and stand trial.
The Federal Government had, last Monday, arraigned Suswam, Okolobia and a former Accountant of the Benue State Government House, Janet Aluga, before Justice Gabriel Kolawole on a 32-count charge of alleged embezzlement of N9.1 billion SURE-P fund belonging to the state.
They were granted bail in the sum of N250m each and a surety with a landed property in Abuja. The Judge had ordered their remand in Kuje Prison until the conditions were met.
The prosecuting counsel, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, however, said he was informed of the development of the inability of the 2nd defendant to perfect his bail conditions.
He however noted that the trial has been stalled for so long and urged the court for short adjournment, adding that prosecution witnesses are readily available.
Counsel to Suswam, Taiwo Kawo (SAN), said he was not opposed to the adjournment, adding he was aware of the situation and sought for adequate time and long adjournment to enable the 2nd defendant perfect his bail.
Justice Mohammed, however, adjourned till September 28,2017, for continuation of trial.
Meanwhile, the EFCC had in the charges preferred against them, in 2015, accused the two men of committing money laundering offences involving alleged diversion of a total sum of N3,111,008,018.51 belonging to the state.
The said amount was allegedly stolen from the proceeds of the sale of shares owned by the Benue State Government while Suswam was the governor of the state.