N80.2b fraud: Chief Judge rejects Yahaya Bello’s bid to transfer case to Kogi

The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho has dismissed an application by a former Kogi State governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello, seeking to transfer his N80.2billion fraud case from Abuja to the court’s Kogi State division.

Justice Tsoho upheld the argument of Dr. Kemi Pinheiro, SAN, counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, that Bello’s application failed on three grounds.

Bello is facing a 19-count charge of alleged money laundering, breach of trust and misappropriation of public funds of about N80.2billion in suit FHC/ABJ/CR/98/2024, before Justice Emeka Nwite.

Although the ex-governor has issued statements denying the allegation, he consistently failed to appear before Justice Nwite on June 13 and June 27,  for his arraignment.

At the last hearing, Bello, through his lawyer, Abdulwahab Muhammed,  SAN, filed an application dated June 10, 2024, to the Chief Judge for the transfer of his trial to the Federal High Court, Lokoja.

But Pinheiro opposed him, arguing among others that since the alleged offences were committed partly in Kogi and Abuja, the case could be filed in either states.

CJ Tsoho, in a July 2, letter signed by his Special Assistant Joshua Ibrahim Aji, agreed with Pinheiro.

Aji said: “I am directed by His Lordship, the the Chief Judge to inform you that he has considered your arguments in support of the application for transfer of the Defendant’s case from Abuja to Lokoja and the response of Dr. ‘Kemi Pinheiro, SAN to same.

“His Lordship’s position on the matter is as follows:

“The main complaint in the case borders on alleged conversion and transfer of funds of Kogi State to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, to purchase property through acts of concealment.

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“The law permits the filing of the charge either in Abuja, FCT or in Lokoja, Kogi State; the offence(s) having been allegedly partly committed in both places. Hence, this is distinguishable from IBORI v. F.R.N. (2008) LPELR8370 or (2009) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1127) C.A. 94 and other judicial authorities relied upon by the Defendant.

“The Prosecution has shown with documentary evidence that two criminal charges in the same scheme of alleged fraud leading to the charge against the Defendant, were earlier filed and are being tried in the Federal High Court, Abuja in Charge No. FHC/ABJ/CR/550/22 F. R. N. v. 1. Ali Bello, 2. Dauda Suleiman and F. R. N. v. 1. Ali Bello, 2. Abba Daudu, 3. Yakubu Siyaka Adabenege, 4. Iyadi Sadat. In both charges a formal application was made for their transfer to Lokoja, but the Court in a considered ruling refused the application. The ruling has not been set aside and cannot be reversed by administrative fiat.

“There is documentary evidence of a pending appeal in Yahaya Adoza Bello v. F. R. N. filed on 17/05/2024, wherein the Defendant as Appellant has sought a consequential order remitting the case to the Chief Judge for reassignment. It is not proper to take any step that will be tantamount to pre-empting the outcome of the appeal.”

The judge also considered the issue of jurisdiction.

“The main issue raised is jurisdictional in nature and will be more appropriately decided by the court. The matter should therefore be presented in open court.

“Please, accept the esteemed regards of His Lordship, the Chief Judge,” Aji added.

Bello has been having a running battles with the agency over his arraignment and the EFCC has declared the former governor wanted following his snubbing of court orders commanding him to surrender himself for arraignment.

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