former Benue governor, Gabriel Suswam

The Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday remanded in Suleja Prison, Niger State, a former aide to former Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State and two other officials of the state for allegedly diverting fraudulently Benue State’s N16.6bn.

The Attorney-General of the Federation’s office, which filed nine counts against the defendants, alleged that the three men diverted the sum of N16.6bn from Benue State’s bank accounts, dedicated for the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme and the Joint Allocation Account for Local Government funds.

The money was allegedly diverted by the defendants between June 27, 2011 and May 29, 2015, the day Suswam completed his second term in office.

The first defendant is a former Special Adviser to the ex-governor on Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Solomon Wombo.

Wombo doubled as the Chairman, Joint Allocation Account for Local Government Committee in the state.

The second is a former Permanent Secretary of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and Secretary, Asen Sambe, who served as the Secretary to the Joint Account Allocation for Local Government Committee.

The third defendant is a former Director of Accounts and Finance in the state’s Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and Secretary, Isiah Ipevnor.

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba ordered that the three men be remanded in Suleja prison pending when they would meet the bail conditions imposed on them shortly after they pleaded not guilty to the nine counts on Monday.

After the arraignment on Monday, the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Aminu Alilu, urged the court to remand the defendants in prison pending the hearing and determination of their bail applications and their trial.

But noting that the alleged offences were bailable, Justice Dimgba directed both the prosecution and the defence teams to meet, agree and propose the terms and condition of the bail the court could impose on the defendants, other to save time.

After a short meeting outside the court room between the prosecution led by Alilu and the defence team led by Mr. Innocent Daa’gba, a set of bail conditions and terms were presented to the court.
Justice Dimgba accepted the conditions but made some alterations including imposition of an additional surety instead on one for each of the defendants as suggested by the two parties.

The judge also imposed another condition that one of the two sureties to be presented by each of the defendants must have a house in Abuja worth the N100m bail sum to be imposed by the court.

Generally, the court granted bail to the defendants in the sum of N100m each with two sureties in like sum.

The judge ruled that one of the sureties should be a civil servant not lower than Assistant Director in any state of federal ministry or other government establishment.
He ruled that the other surety could be a private businessman or woman who owned a property in the municipal area of Abuja with worth sufficient to cover the N100m bail sum.

The civil servant to be presented by each of th defendants must also present to the court their, first letters of appointment, last promotion letters, and their staff identity cards or driver’s licences.

The court also directed that the defendants must deposit with the court their passports and other traveling documents.

The judge ordered that the defendants mustt not travel outside the country without an express permission of the court sought through a motion on notice that must be serve on the defence.
But despite the defence lawyer’s appeal that the defendants be remanded in police custody pending when they would be able to fulfill the bail conditions, Justice Dimgba ordered them to be remanded in prison.

Meanwhile, before the parties went into the meeting on the bail conditions, on Monday the prosecuting counsel, Alilu, informed the judge that the case ought to be filed in the division of the Federal High Cour in Makurdi, Benue State, where the alleged offences were committed, but for the prevailing insecurity in the state when the case was filed on August 1, 2017.

He conceded that the security condition in the state had improved considerably since then.

But Alilu, who said all the defendants, the witnesses and members of both the prosecuting and defence teams were all resident in Abuja, urged the court to assume jurisdiction and continue the trial.

He also cited the provisions of section 102(1)(c) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, to back his prayer.

The defence counsel, Daa’gba, agreed with the prosecution’s prayer that the court should assume jurisdiction to continue to hear the case.

In addition to section 102()(c) of ACJA cited by the prosecution, Daa’agba also referred the court to the provisions of section 385 and 386 of the same law.
But in response, Justice Dimgba asked parties to the case to go back to reflect on the issue, noting that it was possible that the case could be more speedily determined in Makurdi where there were far less number of such high profile corruption cases than they were in Abuja.

The judge then adjourned until December 18.

The total sum of N16,604,314,604.01 allegedly diverted by the defendants was said to be owned by the 23 Local Government Councils of Benue State.

Out of the N16.6bn, the defendants allegedly, between June 15, 2012 and May 29, 2015, diverted N7,032,333,506.28 from the state’s “SURE-P Local Government component” bank account into the account of Benue State Local Government Joint Account with the aim of concealing the money and for their own personal benefits.

The defendants were also said to have, between June 27, 2011 and May 29, 2015, diverted the sum of N5,342,028,098.73 paid into the state Local Government Joint Account by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation of the state.

They were also said to have between, June 15, 2012 and May 29, 2015 diverted another sum of N4,230,953,000 from the state’s Local Government Joint Account into the Benue State Association of Local Government of Nigeria “with the aim of concealing the money being property derived directly from corruption”.

The prosecution accused the three defendants of diverting the sum of N16.6bn in violation of various provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, and the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act.

The AGF office accused the defendants of “conspiracy to transfer property derived directly from corruption contrary to Section 18 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under Section 15 of the same Act.

The defendants were also accused of “transfer of property derived directly from corruption contrary to Section 15(1)(a)(ii) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under the same Section of the Act”.

They also face charges of “conversion of property derived directly from corruption contrary to Section 15(1)|a)(ii) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under the same Section of the Act.”

They are also charged with offences of “obtaining by false pretence contrary to Section 1 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, Cap A6 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under the same section of the Act”.

The charges read in part, “That you Solomon Wombo (m), former Special Adviser to former Governor Gabriel Suswam on Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and Chairman, Joint Account Allocation for Local Government Committee of 30 Spring Road Sun-city Estate, Abuja; Asen Sambe (m), former Permanent Secretary of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and Secretary, Joint Account Allocation for Local Government Committee of No 1 Kungo Sambe Street, Judges Quarters Makurdi; and Isaiah Ipevnor (m), former Director of Accounts and Finance of BNA 1305, Off Abu Shuluwa Road, Makurdi, Benue State, between June 15, 2012 and May 29, 2015 at Makurdi, Benue State, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did transfer a total sum of about Seven Billion thirty two million, three hundred and thirty-five thousand, five hundred and six naira, twenty-eight kobo (N7,032,333,506.28), from Benue State Sure-P Local Government Component Account number 0760175012 domiciled with the First City Monument Bank (FCMB) into Benue State Local Government Joint Account number 2017241513 domiciled 1with the First Bank of Nigeria the aim of concealing the money, being property derived directly from corruption.

“That you Solomon Wombo (m), former Special Adviser to former Governor Gabriel Suswam on Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and Chairman, Joint Account Allocation for Local Government Committee of 30 Spring Road Sun-city Estate, Abuja; Asen Sambe (m), former Permanent Secretary of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and Secretary, Joint Account Allocation for Local Government Committee of No 1 Kungo Sambe Street, Judges Quarters Makurdi; and Isaiah Ipevnor (m), former Director of Accounts and Finance of BNA 1305, Off Abu Shuluwa Road, Makurdi, Benue State, between June 27, 2011 and May 29, 2015 at Makurdi, Benue State, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did covert a total sum of about five billion three hundred and forty-two million, twenty-eight naira and seventy-three kobo (N5,342,028,098.73) meant for the twenty-three (23) Benue State Local Government Councils paid by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation into the Benue State Local Government Joint Account number 2017241513 domiciled with the First Bank of Nigeria, which you withdrew in cash With the aim of concealing the money, being property derived directly from corruption.”

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