Request by Gabriel Suswam, a former governor of Benue State, to adjourn proceedings pending the determination of his appeal challenging the jurisdiction of the court at the Court of Appeal, has been refused by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja today.
Citing Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Justice Abang ruled that the law forbids a stay of proceedings in respect of criminal matters, adding that the defence also failed to obtain a leave of the court before appealing its ruling on jurisdiction.
He therefore refused the application for adjournment and asked the prosecution to call its first witness.
Prosecution counsel O.A Atolagbe thereafter called his first witness, Mishelia Clara Whyte, an investment banker and Group Managing Director of Elixir Investment Partners. She told the court that her company was engaged in 2014 to manage the shares of Benue Investment and Property Company Ltd (BIPC). Following the appointment, she said a search was conducted to consolidate all the shares of BIPC and that Elixir was given the mandate to sell and reuse the sum of ten billion naira, as well as the go ahead to give a discount of 15%. She stated that the shares were sold without a discount for N9.5 billion.
After the sale, she said the company received instruction to pay the proceeds into three different accounts which they honoured, but one of the accounts did not go through.
At this stage, she told the court that she contacted the then managing director of BIPC who told her to discuss the discrepancies in the account number with the then Commissioner of Finance, Okpanachi Okolobia, the second defendant, who gave her a mandate in the form of board resolution to pay the proceeds into a project account .
She gave a breakdown of payments made from monies realized from the sale of the shares by Elixir as follows: N1billion to one account, about N5.3 billion to another account and the balance of N3.1billion to the project account of Fanffash Resources.
The prosecution counsel, Atolagbe thereafter applied to the court to tender the letter of instruction gotten from BIPC, mandate to sell, the board resolution and portfolio agreement. But the defense counsel objected to the admissibility of the documents, arguing that some of the documents were photocopies and urged the court to reject them.
The case was adjourned to October 30, 2019 for ruling on admissibility of the documents and continuation of trial.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,EFCC is prosecuting Suswam and Okolobia on nine-count charges,bordering on money laundering and diversion of funds to the tune of N3.1 billion(Three Billion, One Hundred Million, Naira).
Count one of the charge reads:”That you Gabriel Torwua Suswam and Omodachi Okolobia while being Benue State governor and Commissioner of Finance of Benue State, respectively between 8th August and 30th October, 2014 in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court took possession of the sum of $15,800,000 (Fifteen Million, Eight Hundred Thousand Dollars ) from Abubaker Umar of Fanffash Resources (Worldwide Limited ) a bureau de change dealer which sum you knew to be the proceed of unlawful activity to wit; theft of the sum of N3,111,008,018.51 (Three Billion, One Hundred and Eleven Million, Eight Thousand and Eighteen Naira. Fifty One Kobo) which formed part of the sum of N9,411,708,009.51 (Nine Billion, Four Hundred and Eleven Million, Seven Hundred and Eight Thousand, Nine Naira, Fifty One Kobo) realised from the sale of shares owned by Benue State Government and Benue Investment and Property Company Limited and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2)(d) of the Money Laundering (prohibition) Act , 2011 as amended in 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.”