Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja has taken over the trial of a former Governor of Benue State, Mr Gabriel Suswam, who was charged with N3.1bn fraud, The PUNCH has learnt.
Justice Abang took over the case following the withdrawal of Justice Ahmed Mohammed from the trial following the recent report by Sahara Reporters relating to the case.
Suswan is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for alleged money laundering.
Our correspondent learnt that Justice Abang has fixed September 20 for the rearraignment of the senator representing Benue North along with his co-defendant, Mr Omodachi Okolobia.
Okolobia was the state commissioner of finance during the Suswam administration in Benue.
Our correspondent on Tuesday confirmed the new developments in respect of the case from court officials.
Our correspondent also saw the hearing notice Justice Abang ordered to be issued and served on the parties to the case for the September 20 proceedings.
“The cause will be transferred from the General Cause List to the Hearing Paper for Friday, September 20, 2019 at 9 O’clock in the forenoon, and will come on to be heard on that day if the business of the court permits or otherwise on some adjournment day of which you will receive on further notice,” the hearing notice for Court 7 presided by Justice Abang read in part.
The EFCC had been prosecuting Suswam along with Okolobia before Justice Mohammed since November 2015.
Justice Mohammed’s withdrawal from the case was the second after he announced a similar decision on June 6, 2016.
The judge had also cited a publication by Sahara Reporters which accused him of having been compromised to give Suswam a “soft landing” for his decision to withdraw from the case.
Following the publication, Justice Mohammed said he had returned the case file to then-Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta (retd), for reassignment to another judge of the court.
But both the prosecution team led by Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) and the defence team led by Mr Joseph Daudu (SAN) ensured the return of the case to the judge.
They convinced Justice Auta that reassigning the case to another judge, who would have to start it afresh, would amount to a waste of time and the efforts already put into calling three witnesses that had already concluded their testimonies.
However, our correspondent learnt that the immediate past Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Kafarati, had upon receiving the case file returned by Justice Mohammed, following the latest publication by Sahara Reporters, promptly assigned it to Justice Abang.
It was learnt that Justice Kafarati reassigned the matter to Justice Abang before he retired on July 25.
The EFCC is prosecuting Suswam and Okolobia on nine counts of money laundering involving the alleged diversion of N3,111,008,018.51 from the proceeds of the sale of shares owned by the Benue State Government.
The fourth prosecution witness, Mr Abubakar Umar, has been in the witness box in Justice Mohammed’s court since 2017.
The case has suffered many adjournments since last year when the EFCC labelled Umar a “hostile witness”.