The trial which was to commence on Thursday, was adjourned following the absence of the second defendant, Sharif Abdulrahman, in court.
Abdulrahman who is currently the Deputy Director of Finance at the Supreme Court, was said to have been hospitalised in an undisclosed hospital. Equally charged before the court over the alleged fraud was the Assistant Director of Finance at the apex court, Rilwanu Lawal.
The trio were to enter their plea to a nine-count criminal charge the Federal Government entered against them before trial Justice A.B Mohammed. However, when the matter was called up for arraignment, counsel to the 2nd defendant, Mr. Garba Tetengi,SAN, told the court that his client was indisposed to attend the proceeding considering that he is presently on admission at the hospital.
Tetengi therefore pleaded with the Judge to adjourn the matter till a later date. Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, has engaged a private prosecutor, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Philips, to handle the case.
The Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Umar, who notified the court of the development, said the AGF’s action was backed by section 174(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
While assuming control of the case-file, Adeogun-Philips, who is a former prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, ICC, expressed his disappointment that trial of the three accused apex court officials could not kick start as scheduled.
He further noted that counsel to the 2nd defendant, Tetengi, SAN, failed to adduce any document showing that his client was indeed on admission in any hospital, as well as the ailment for which he was hospitalised.
Nevertheless, Justice Mohammed stressed that the matter could not proceed in the absence of one the 2nd defendant since the three accused persons were jointly charged by FG. Meantime, whereas Mr. Abdulhakeem Mustapha, SAN, announced his appearance for the Supreme Court Chief Registrar, Saleh, the 3rd accused person was also represented by another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. I.K Sanusi. entered the charge marked CR/13/16 and dated November 3, against them, pursuant to sections l04 and 379 of the Administration of criminal Justice Act, 2015.
The defendants were specifically alleged to have diverted N2.2billion belonging to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, into personal bank accounts domiciled at United Bank For Africa Plc with account number 2027642863.
They were further alleged to have between 2009 and 2016, received gratification in the sum of N10million from Willysdave Ltd, a private contractor to the Supreme Court of Nigerian and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 10(a) (i) of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Act 2000 and punishable under the same Act.
FG alleged that the trio, on different occasions, surreptitiously used their positions to receive gratifications to the tune of over N74.4m from private contractors that provided services to the Supreme Court between 2009 and 2016.
Count one of the charges against them read:
STATEMENT OF OFFENCE Conspiracy contrary to Section 96 of the Penal Code Act CAP 532 LFN (Abuja) 2004 punishable under Section 97 of the same Act.
PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE
AHMED GAMBO SALEH “M” MUHAMMED ABDULRAHMAN SHARIF ‘M’ and RILWANU LAWAL ‘M’, all of Supreme Court of Nigeria between 2009 and 2016 did agree to do an illegal act to wit: diverted the total sum of Two Billion, Two Hundred Million Naira (NGN2.2 Billion) belonging to the Supreme Court of Nigeria into personal bank accounts domiciled at United Bank For Africa PLC a/c no 2027642863, and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 96 of the Penal Code Act and punishable under Section 97 of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 LFN (Abuja) 2004.