Suswam’s absence stalls his arraignment over N9bn fraud
Former Gov. Gabriel Suswam of Benue could not be formally charged with N9 billion fraud at Federal High Court, Abuja on Thursday due to his absence on grounds of ill health.
Suswam and two others are facing fresh 32-count charge bordering on fraud and diversion of funds.
When the matter was called, counsel to Suswam, Mrs Chinelo Ogbozor told the court that her client was not in court owing to the fact that he was only recently released from detention.
According to Ogbozor, the detention which lasted over 70 days took a toll on Suswam’s health.
“The court will recall that the first defendant (Suswam), against his doctor’s orders after his release from the Department of State Services (DSS), custody, was in court on Wednesday.
“He met with his lawyers on his release and explained that while in detention, he was unable to keep up with his medical check up and his medication for a hypertensive medical heart condition.
“Having stayed in detention for over 70 days, he proceeded to see his doctors who after the due examination, advised that he be placed on bed rest.”
She further told the court that she had a medical report supporting her submission and showed a copy of the report to the judge saying she had equally shown the report to the prosecution.
The counsel added that out of respect to the court, Suswam was brought to court on Wednesday to attend his civil trial which he discontinued, but permission to bring him on Thursday was refused by his doctor.
She pleaded with the court for an adjournment to enable her client get well in order to adequately prepare an appropriate plea for each of the 32 counts he was facing in the fresh charges levelled against him.
Mr F.R Onoja, counsel to the second defendant in the matter supported the application for adjournment and also urged the court to grant same.
Onoja said he was aware that Suswam’s health suffered grievously while he was in DSS’ custody adding that the rigors of an arraignment, considering the many counts, would be too much for his heart to bear.
“This is because after the arraignment, there will be the issue of bail and so I urge the court to grant the adjournment as I am sure he will be in court on next adjournment to attend his trial.”
The prosecuting counsel, Mr Aminu Alilu urged the court to invoke Section 131 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) and issue a warrant of arrest on Suswam to compel him to attend his trial.
Alilu said: “Since he was in court on Wednesday out of respect to the court, why did he not extend the same respect to Thursday to come and take his plea?
“In view of that, the court should invoke Section 131 of ACJA which empowers the judge to issue a warrant of arrest of the first defendant.”
Halilu also questioned the authenticity of the medical report produced by Suswam’s counsel saying that being from a private hospital; the doctor should have attached an affidavit to it.
“Since the report is from a private hospital, there ought to be an affidavit by the doctor who signed it attesting to the fact that he suffers from the conditions stated in the report.”
He, however, did not oppose the application for an adjournment.
The judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawale, ruled that an arrest warrant was premature at this stage, as it may attract unnecessary media attention and politicise the trial.
Kolawale also said that he accepted the medical report produced by Suswam’s counsel.
He said he accepted the report because he was not aware of anywhere where it was stated that for a report from a private hospital to be accepted, it must have an affidavit attached to it.
The further said that the two defendants who were in court should continue to enjoy the administrative bail already granted them.
He adjourned the matter until June 19 for arraignment.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reports that the Federal Government had filed a fresh suit against Suswam and two others over diversion of N9.79 billion.
Part of the diverted funds was said to be for police reform and Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme.
Those charged alongside Suswam in the 32-count fresh charge are Omadachi Oklobia, his former Commissioner for Finance and Janet Aluga, former Accountant, Benue Government House.
In the fresh 32-count charge, the trio allegedly cornered the said funds between 2012 and 2015 while Suswam was the governor of the state.
They are also accused of 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 offences are said to be contrary to, and punishable under various provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011, and the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act.(NAN)