Alleged Money Laundering: Try Me in Kogi – Ex-Gov Bello Tells Court

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…court adjourns the case till July 17, as defence lawyer applies to withdraw

The immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, facing a 19-count charge, has adduced reasons why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, should prosecute him in Kogi.

The former governor, in a letter he wrote to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, said it would be legally wrong for the anti-graft agency to subject him to a trial in Abuja when the offence he allegedly committed were in Kogi state.

In the letter he wrote through his team of lawyers led by Mr. Abdulwahab Mohammed, SAN, Bello, maintained that only the Lokoja Division of the high court, has the territorial jurisdiction to entertain the allegations against him.

“All the funds which the complainant alleged to have been laundered by the defendant are monies of the Government of Kogi State whose State Capital is in Lokoja.

“All the Bank Accounts from which the said Monies are stated to be laundered from as shown in the proof of evidence are domiciled with the branches of the respective Banks in Lokoja, Kogi State.

“Thus, the Law is settled that generally, the Federal High Court’s jurisdiction is one all over the Federation, the Court is divided into judicial divisions and where a crime is committed in any of the divisions, criminal proceedings thereof must be initiated and prosecuted in that very judicial division of the Federal High Court where the act or omission or the elements of the offence were allegedly committed.

“It is pertinent to note that the Defendant was Governor of Kogi State, the charges and the proof of evidence indicate criminal breach of trust, criminal misappropriation and money laundering in respect of the statutory funds of Kogi state.

“These are the alleged predicate offences and all their elements took place in Kogi State, within the territorial jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, Lokoja Judicial Division.

“We humbly urge my Lord, to transfer the subject charge to the Lokoja Division of the Federal High Court which is the Division with the Territorial Jurisdiction to try the case,” the letter read.

Though the matter was originally slated for the defendant to enter his plea to the charge, however, he was not present in court when the case was called up.

A lawyer, Mr. Adeola Adedipe, SAN, who announced appearance for him, drew the attention of trial Justice Emeka Nwite to the letter his client wrote to the CJ on June 13.

He said the CJ had already asked EFCC’s lawyer to respond to the request for the case file to be transferred to Kogi.

“My lord, as of this morning, I am not aware whether there has been a response by the prosecution team in compliance to the directive of the CJ.

“We are also not in receipt of any decision that has been made on this request by the CJ.

“I am also aware that this administrative directive of the CJ has been formally communicated to this court.

“We have filed an affidavit of fact wherein we attached two documents referencing the details that I have just highlighted.

“My duty is first to the court. As of the moment, I am not urging anything from the court, but just to present the facts as they are,” Adedipe, SAN, added.

On his part, the EFCC, through its counsel, Mr. Kemi Pinhero, SAN, urged the court to cite the two senior lawyers that have appeared for the defendant in the matter for contempt.

The prosecution counsel noted that the lawyers had on three different occasions, made an undertaking before the court to produce their client for his trial.

He argued that their failure to make the defendant available before the court in line with the undertaking, amounted to a breach of the rules of professional conduct.

Pinhero, SAN, argued that Order 31(3) of Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners stipulated that any lawyer that failed to comply with an undertaking he made before a court, aside from being in contempt, is automatically guilty of misconduct.

“My lord, our application is that since one of the lawyers is present in court, he should be moved to the dock and dealt with summarily. That is what the law says and this will help to preserve the integrity of the judiciary.

“For five consecutive sittings, the defendant refused to make himself available for his trial and his lawyers have continued to use all forms of chicanery to frustrate his arraignment.

“If this sort of conduct is not punished, then we will be sliding to a situation that will be worse than the Animal Farm.

“The world is watching. Punishing these senior lawyers will send a very clear message,” EFCC’s lawyer added.

Following the development, Adedipe, SAN, applied to withdraw his appearance for the defendant.

Adedipe, SAN, told the court that he was not Bello’s lead counsel, even as he denied making any undertaking to secure his presence for the trial.

“My lord, the narration by the prosecution counsel is very untrue and it is accentuated by malice. I am not the lead counsel in this matter.

“What the learned prosecution counsel has tried to do was to pitch my person against this court,” Adedipe, SAN, insisted.

Adedipe, SAN, said his team had earlier notified the court that it was not aware of the whereabouts of the former governor.

According to him, they had enlisted the help of “some elders” to persuade the former governor to appear before the court.

He said in the light of the turn the case had taken, he had no option than to activate the provision of section 349(8) of ACJA, 2015, by withdrawing his appearance for the defendant.

However, EFCC’s counsel maintained that it was late for the defence lawyer to pull out of the case.

“My lord, he should be used to set an example that this is not a lottery game. His request to withdraw is only an afterthought and it should not be countenanced by this court.

“I urge your lordship to invite him to the dock immediately,” the prosecution counsel submitted.

After he had listened to both sides, Justice Nwite adjourned the matter till July 17.

The court ordered the two lawyers representing the defendant to ensure that they attend the sitting.

Bello is facing a charge bordering on his alleged complicity in money laundering, breach of trust and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of about N80.2billion.

EFCC alleged that he had alongside his nephew Ali Bello and two others, Dauda Suleiman and Abdulsalam Hudu, were complicit in money laundering.

Though the ex-Kogi governor previously failed to appear before the court for his arraignment, however, he briefed lawyers to file an application to set aside an arrest warrant that was issued against him on April 17, as well as to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to try him.

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