Breaking: Court rejects Bello’s bid to transfer N80.2 billion fraud case

Yahaya Bello

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

Justice Tsoho upheld the arguments presented by Dr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), stating that Bello’s application failed on three grounds.

Bello faces a 19-count charge of alleged money laundering, breach of trust, and misappropriation of public funds totaling about N80.2 billion in a case marked FHC/ABJ/CR/98/2024, presided over by Justice Emeka Nwite.

Despite issuing statements denying the allegations, Bello has repeatedly failed to appear before Justice Nwite for his arraignment on June 13 and June 27.

At the last hearing, Bello, through his counsel Abdulwahab Muhammed (SAN), filed an application dated June 10, 2024, requesting the Chief Judge to transfer his trial to the Federal High Court in Lokoja.

However, Pinheiro opposed the transfer, arguing that since the alleged offenses were committed partly in Kogi and Abuja, the case could be filed in either jurisdiction.

In a letter dated July 2, signed by his Special Assistant, Joshua Ibrahim Aji, Justice Tsoho concurred with Pinheiro’s arguments. The letter stated:

“I am directed by His Lordship, the Honourable 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 from 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 offense(s) having been allegedly partly committed in both places. Hence, this is distinguishable from IBORI. F.R.N. (2008) LPELR8370 or (2009) 3 NVWLR (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.”

The letter further stated that there is documentary evidence of a pending appeal in Yahaya Adoza Bello v. F.R.N. filed on May 17, 2024, wherein Bello 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 Chief Judge added.

Justice Tsoho also noted that the jurisdictional issues raised would be more appropriately decided in open court.

Bello has been at odds with the EFCC over his arraignment, with the agency declaring the former governor wanted for repeatedly ignoring court orders to surrender for arraignment.

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