N80.2billion Money Laundering: Yahaya Bello’s absence stalls arraignment

Appeal Court hears EFCC appeal against Yahaya Bello’s arrest

Former governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello on Thursday, April 18, 2024 failed to appear before Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Maitama, Abuja to kick off his arraignment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Bello was slated for arraignment by the EFCC alongside Ali Bello, Dauda Suleiman and Abdulsalam Hudu on 19-count charges bordering on money laundering to the tune of N80,246,470,089.88 (Eight Billion, Two Hundred and Forty-six Million, Four Hundred and Seventy Thousand and Eighty-Nine Naira, Eighty-Eighty Kobo).

Count one of the charges reads: That you, Yahaya Adoza Bello, Ali Bello, Dauda Suliman, and Abdulsalam Hudu( Still at large), sometime, in February, 2016, in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired amongst yourselves to convert the total sum of N80,246,470,088.88 (Eighty Billion, Two Hundred and Forty Six Million, Four Hundred and Seventy Thousand and Eight Nine Naira, Eighty Eight Kobo), which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of your unlawful activity to wit, criminal breach of trust and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) and punishable under Section 15(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended”.

Count 17 of the charges read: “That you Yahaya Bello between 26th July 2021 to 6th April 2022 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court aided E-Traders International Limited to conceal the aggregate sum of N3,081,804,654.00 (Three Billion, Eighty One Million Eight Hundred and Four Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty Four Naira) in account number 1451458080 domiciled in Access BankPlc, which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful activity to wit, criminal breach of trust and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a), 15(2) (d) of the Money Laundering ( Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 15( 3) of the same Act.

Count 18 of the charges reads: “That you Yahaya Adoza Bello sometime in November 2021 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court indirectly procured E-Traders international Limited to transfer the aggregate sum of $570,330.00 (Five Hundred and Seventy Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty Dollars) to account number 4266644272 domiciled in TD Bank, United States of America which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful activity to wit, criminal breach of trust and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15(2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 15( 3) of the same Act.”

Yahaya Bello’s botched arraignment came on the heels of his warrant of arrest granted the EFCC by the court on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

Prosecution counsel, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN) regretted that a lawful attempt to serve the defendant the charges, along with a court order of arrest was botched “by a person of immunity, who came and whisked him away in his car,” noting that by virtue of Section 287 of the constitution all persons are obliged to obey a court order. Also, Section 12 of ACJA, he said, allowed law enforcement agencies to break down premises to bring unwilling defendants to justice.

Pinheiro assured that “The state will invoke all its powers within the law to ensure that the defendant is produced in court. The state will ensure that he is produced in court for the purpose of arraignment, and it is in his own interest so that he can take his plea”.

Following Bello’s absence, Pinheiro sought leave of the court to serve him the charges through his counsel, Abdulwahab Muhammed (SAN).

Muhammed, however, declined saying that he did not have the authority of his client to accept the charges.

Muhammed further argued that his client cannot be arraigned in court until EFCC’s appeal against an order of the High Court, restraining the Commission from arresting, detaining and prosecuting him is determined and also until the determination of his client’s preliminary objection, challenging the jurisdiction of Justice Nwite’s court to entertain his trial.

Pinheiro, however, submitted that it was legal and constitutional to serve the defendant through his lawyer, especially as the defence counsel introduced himself in court unconditionally and without limitations as the representative of the defendant.

“Having introduced himself unconditionally as the representative of the defendant, my learned colleague knows that he cannot be a defence counsel for arraignment and not for bail. If he is served the charges on behalf of the defendant, if he likes he can now advise his client to stay permanently away from the court,” he said.

The judge adjourned the matter till Tuesday, April 23, 2024, for ruling as to whether the prosecution can serve the defendant through his lawyer for arraignment.

 

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