By Celestine Ajayi
The Federal High Court, Abuja, has adjourned the trial of former Benue governor, Gabriel Suswam until May 25 for the cross-examination of the fourth prosecution witness, Abubakar Umar.
Suswam and a former Commissioner for Finance in his administration, Omadachi Oklobia, are being prosecuted for alleged N3.1 billion money laundering charge.
They were accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of diverting the money which was said to be proceeds of the sale of shares owned by the state government for personal use.
At the resumed hearing on Wednesday, the EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, concluded the cross examining Umar.
Jacobs, rather than lead Umar, a prosecution witness in evidence, had to cross-examine him by virtue of the fact that he had been declared a hostile witness by the anti-graft agency.
The court had declared the witness was hostile because of his perceived uncooperative attitude towards the prosecution.
This followed an application by Jacobs who urged the court to declare Umar hostile after the witness contradicted himself while testifying in the case on May 5, 2016.
Jacobs had told the court on Nov. 22, 2017, that he took the decision to declare Umar a hostile witness given the contradiction between the witness’ written statement and his testimony before the court earlier on May 5, 2016.
The witness, under cross examination told the court that he was forced to change his statement because of the pressure he received from Suswam’s associates.
Speaking through an interpreter, he told the court that he received several calls from Suswam’s people threatening to harm him and his family if he didn’t change his statement.
Umar, however, told the court that he was asked to change his statement only with respect to who he gave the dollar equivalent of N3.1 billion and the location he gave the money to the person.
The witness further told the court that he handed over 15.8 million dollars to Suswam at his Maitama residence adding that only God was his witness.
Following the conclusion of the cross examination of the witness, the prosecuting counsel asked to recall the witness to give evidence with regards to the amended charge in respect of the matter.
The application was granted following the withdrawal of an earlier objection from Mr Joseph Daudu, SAN, and Mr Paul Erokoro, SAN, counsel to Suswam and Oklobia.
The witness, on recall, told the court that he had no relationship with Benue government and that he had never done business with the government before.
When asked if he was willing to proceed with cross examination of the witness, Daudu told the court that he needed time.
“The witness has been in the witness box for the past three years. To save time, we need to go back and sift the grain from the chaff so that we can cross examine him in one day,” Daudu told the court.
The trial judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed adjourned the matter until May 25 for the defence to cross examine the witness.