Alleged N8.2b fraud: Chief Judge asks Yahaya Bello to direct request for transfer to trial judge

The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho has asked the immediate past Kogi Governor Yahaya Bello to direct his request for the transfer of the money laundering case against him to the judge handling the case.

Bello had, in a letter by his lawyer, Abdulwahab Mohammed (SAN), dated June 10, 2024 request that the alleged N8.2b money laundering charge brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) be transfered to the Lokoja division of the Federal High Court from the Abuja division where the charge was filed.

Bello had, among others, argued that since he served as Kogi State Governor and the funds he allegedly laundered belonged to the state, the capital of Kogi should serve as the proper venue for his trial.

In a July 2 letter,  written by his Special Assistant, Joshua Ibrahim Aji, Justice Tsoho identified some defects in the ex-Governor’s argument that his case be transfered to Lokoja.

Justice Tsoho noted while an appeal by Bello on similar issue was pending before the Court of Appeal, it was wrong to preempt the appellate court by his request to have the case transfered administratively.

The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court direceted the ex-Governor to present his request before the trial court so that the issue would be argued in open court and a decision given.

The July 2 letter, addressed the Bello’s lawyer, reads: “I am directed by His Lordship, the Honourable, 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.

“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) LPELR – 8370 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. Ali Bello & Dauda Suleiman and F. R. N. v.  Ali Bello,  Abba Daudu, Yakubu Siyaka Adabenege, & Iyadi Sadat.

“In both charges a formal application was mode 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 thet will tantamount to pre-empting the outcome of the appeal.

“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.”

Bello had, in his June letter said: “My lord, the proper court and venue for the trial of the instant case is not the Federal High Court, Abuja judicial division, where the case is currently pending, but the Federal High Court, Lokoja judicial division in Kogi State, where all the alleged offences of money laundering and misappropriation allegedly took place.

“My lord, the buying of property is not money laundering, it is the conversion and or transfer of funds from Kogi State Government’s bank accounts, which is a proceed of the alleged unlawful act that is money laundering.

Hence 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, as shown in the proof of evidence, are domiciled with the branches of the respective banks in Lokoja, Kogi State.

“The institution of the proceedings in the Abuja division of the Federal High Court by the EFCC is forum shopping.

“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.”

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