news

Alleged N9.79bn fraud: Judge warns Suswam over absence from court

By  | 

Ade Adesomoju, Abuja

The absence of a former Governor of Benue State, Mr Gabriel Suswam, from a Federal High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, stalled his scheduled arraignment over allegations of diverting about N9.79bn belonging to the state.

Although he was absent on health grounds, lead prosecuting counsel, Mr Aminu Alilu, described the medical report presented by the former governor as of ‘doubtful authenticity’ and asked Justice Gabriel Kolawole to issue a warrant for the arrest of the absentee defendant.

Justice Kolawole refused to grant the application for an arrest warrant, but warned the former governor not to take the criminal case ‘lightly’.

The judge said, “I accept the medical report and sincerely hope that the court will not be pushed to the point when the court will exercise its power under section 131 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.”

Suswam was arrested by the Department of State Services on February 25, 2017 and released from custody on Sunday after spending about 70 days in detention.

He was present in court earlier on Wednesday when his lead counsel, Mr Joseph Daudu (SAN), withdrew the ex-governor’s N10bn suit against the security agency for alleged rights violation even as the case was struck out by Justice Kolawole.

Suswam was, however, absent from court on Thursday for arraignment on charges preferred against him and two others in March 2017.

His co-accused, a former Commissioner of Finance in his administration, Mr Omadachi Oklobia, and the then Accountant, Benue State Government House Administration, Mrs Janet Aluga, were however, present in court and stood in the court while the proceedings lasted on Thursday.

The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation on March 27, 2017 filed 32 counts against Suswam alongside the two others.

The prosecution accused the defendants of diverting the sum of N9,791,602,453.8 part of which was meant for police reform programme and the Subsidy Reinvestment Empowerment Programme.

The SURE-P scheme was set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration following the part removal of fuel subsidy in 2012.

The prosecution alleged in the charges marked FHC/ABJ/CR/48/2017 that the sum of N9.79bn was diverted between 2012 and 2015, while Suswam was the governor of the state.

Upon discovering that Suswam was absent from court on Thursday, Justice Kolawole sought an explanation from the ex-governor’s lawyer, Miss C. E. Ogbuozor, who said her client was on hospital admission for hypertension.

She said, “After his release from the custody of the DSS, he met with us his lawyers and explained to us that owing to his detention, he had been unable to keep up with his medical checks or take his medication for his hypertensive condition.

“Having stayed in detention for over 70 days, he proceeded to see his doctors, who after due examination advised that he should be placed on bed rest and medical observation.

“We have also been issued with a report which we have furnished the prosecution with this morning.”

In response, Alilu denied ever receiving any medical report from the defence, insisting that Suswam’s absence from court was in violation of the court’s order made while the defendant was still in the DSS custody.

He said, “I have not seen any medical report as explained by my learned friend. In view of that, I believe that the first defendant is in breach of the order of court to appear today.

“If the first defendant was strong enough to come to court out of respect for the court (yesterday), the same respect should have been extended till today to take his plea. His presence in court yesterday (Wednesday) showed that the condition is not as complicated as the counsel presented it.”

After warning Suswam not to be absent in subsequent proceedings, Justice Kolawole fixed June 19 for arraignment.

Copyright PUNCH.               
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.

Contact: [email protected]

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *