Mohammed Abacha's Absence Stalls Trial Over Fresh Charges
BEVERLY HILLS, CA, April 29, (THEWILL) â€' The absence of Mohammed, scion of the late Head of State, General Sanni Abacha, has again stalled proceedings in his trial over fresh charges of unlawfully receiving about N446.3billion allegedly stolen from government's coffers between 1995 and 1998.
When the case came up for hearing before Justice Mamman Kolo of an Abuja High Court on Tuesday, Mohammed, who is facing a fresh nine-count charge, was absent at the court as a result of ill health.
The case against him had been adjourned to Tuesday to enable him plea to the charge, but when the case was called, his lawyer, Mr. Reuben Atabo, said his Mohammed received the hearing notice and was ready to clear his name but could not make it to the court due to ill health. Atabo therefore applied for an adjournment, saying the accused was ready to clear his name with respect to the allegations.
'My Lord, we wish to inform the court that about four days ago, the accused took ill and he was rushed to a hospital.'
'The accused absence today is neither deliberate nor an attempt to run away from his trial.'
'The accused was diagnosed of blood pressure and severe chest pain. Doctors have prescribed some drugs for him and recommended two weeks bed rest,' Atabo said.
He submitted a medical report in support of his oral application for adjournment as he asked the court to fix another date to enable Mohammed recuperate and attend to his trial.
But the prosecuting counsel , Mr. Daniel Enwelum, said he would reluctantly concede to the oral application for adjournment since it was a medical issue. Justice Kolo, who said although he was reluctant to allow another adjournment, however conceded as it had to do with Mohammed's health as he adjourned the further hearing in the case to June 18 At the last hearing of the case, the counsel, who represented Mohammed, Mr. Abdullahi Haruna, had told the court that he got to know about the arraignment 'by accident'.
He said: 'My Lord, we are not aware of this arraignment because we were not served with hearing notice, charge sheet and witness statements on oath.'
Only last month, the Federal Government filed a fresh charge against Mohammed, accusing him of unlawfully receiving about N446.3billion allegedly stolen from government's coffers between 1995 and 1998. In the nine-count charge, he was accused of 'dishonestly receiving stolen property' and 'voluntarily assisted in concealing money.'
The charge replaced the earlier one of 121 counts in which Mohammed was charged with Atiku Bagudu, who was excluded from the fresh charge, leaving only Mohammed.
According to the new charge marked CR.21-24/2008, the stolen money allegedly received by Mohammed, and which he was accused of concealing include 141,100,000 pound sterling and $384,353,000 made up of cash and travellers cheques.
Dated February 24, 2014 , the charge was filed by a private prosecutor, Daniel Enwelum, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the Federal Government and upon a fiat dated February 18, 2014 issued to him by the Attorney General of the Federation.
However, Mohammed could not be arraigned because the scion of the Abacha family was nowhere to be found.
The prosecutor told the court that, even when Mohammed had been served with the charge, with evidence to that effect contained in a sworn affidavit by the court's bailiff, the accused person had refused to attend court for him to be arraigned.
He said the new charge which now excluded Bagudu, who was charged with Mohammed, was filed pursuant to Section 181 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) as an amendment to the earlier charge.
Enwelum urged the court to accept the fresh charge and deemed the receipt of the charge by the defence lawyer, on behalf of the accused person, as proper service.
He said the lawyer, Abdulllahi Haruna had promised to receive the charge for his client.
Haruna said Mohammed was absent in court because he was not aware of the new charge.
He urged the court to adjourn the case to a further date to enable his client attend court.
Lawyer to Bagudu, Rickey Tarfa (SAN) then urged the court to grant an order discharging his client from the earlier charge in view of the prosecution's decision to exclude him from the new charge.
Enwelum, in reaction to Tarfa's application, argued that it was unnecessary for the court to make a specific order discharging Bagudu from the charge since the government had already excluded him from the amended charge.
Ruling, Justice Kolo allowed the amended charge.
He also granted an order discharging Bagudu from the charge and adjourned to April 29 for Mohammed's arraignment.
In count one, Mohammed was alleged to have between August and December 1995 at Abuja, dishonestly receiving $36,480,000.00 made up of cash and travellers cheques property of the Federal Government, believed to have been stolen.
Count two alleged that Mohammed, between August and December 1995 at Abuja, voluntarily assisted in concealing $57,960,000.00 believed to have been stolen from the Federal Government. Count three alleged that he, between October and December 1996 at Abuja, dishonestly received $26,913,500.00 believed to have been stolen from the federal Government.
The prosecution alleged in count four that Mohammed, within the same time, voluntarily assisted in concealing $26,913,500.00 allegedly stolen from the Federal Government. Count five alleged that he, sometime in June 1997 at Abuja dishonestly received $10,000,000.00 believed to have been stolen from the Federal Government.
He was, in count six, said to have, between February and December 1997 dishonestly received $87,000,000 and 41,143,000 pounds sterling believed to have been stolen from the Federal government. Count seven accused him of voluntarily assisting in concealing the amounts mentioned in count six.
In count eight, Mohammed was accused of dishonestly receiving, between January and August 1998 receiving $167,000,000 and 99,957,000 pound sterling, believed to have been stolen from the Federal Government. Count nine accused him of voluntarily assisting in concealing the amount mention in count eight.
The alleged offences are punishable under sections 317 and 319 of the Penal Code.