A United States court is considering postponing the trial date in the $1.1million fraud case involving Abba Kyari, a formerly celebrated Nigerian police officer, to 17 May , 2022.
This is after U.S. prosecutors along with three of the six defendants and their defence lawyers applied for the shifting of the earlier scheduled October dates on Friday.
A copy of the application obtained by PREMIUM TIMES cited various reasons including the need for additional time to prepare for the case and process huge documentary evidence.
Rukayat Fashola (aka Morayo), Bolatito Agbabiaka (aka Bolamide), and Yusuf Anifowoshe (aka AJ and Alvin Johnson), are the three defendants interested in the postponement of the trial from October to May 2022. All the three are on bail.
The rest of the defendants – Mr Kyari, Abdulrahman Juma, and Kelly Chibuzo Vincent – “remain at large”, the application stated..
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said in court documents released in July that all six defendants including Mr Kyari, were co-conspirators in the $1.1million fraud coordinated by a former Nigerian Instagram celebrity, Abbas Ramon, better known as Hushpuppi.
A Qatari businessperson was the victim of the scheme perpetrated between November 2019 and April 2020, FBI says.
Mr Kyari, a deputy commissioner of police, allegedly played a role in the scam by helping Hushpuppi to detain a disenchanted co-conspirator who wanted to warn the victim businessperson about the scam.
The former head of Intelligence Response Team of the Nigerian police, with pending U.S. extradition request against him, was suspended in the wake of the revelation of the charges against him and five others.
The report of a probe into the case commissioned by the Inspector-General of Police has been submitted, but its findings and recommendations have yet to be made public officially.
With the delay, speculations are rife that efforts are being made to cover up for Mr Kyari in a bid to avert his extradition to the U.S.
While Mr Kyari and two others remain at large, the three other defendants along with the U.S. prosecutors said by virtue of the U.S. Speedy Court Trial Act, trial ought to start in October this year.
They noted that the court had earlier set a trial date of 12 October , 2021 for Ms Agbabiaka and Mr Anifowoshe, and 26 October , 2021 for Ms Fashola.
For various reasons cited in the postponement application, the court was asked to change the trial to 17 May , 2022 for the three defendants.
“By this stipulation, defendants move to continue the trial date to May 17, 2022. This is the first request for a continuance,” the document read in part.
Reasons for postponement
Parties to the application said the facts presented to ask for the postponement “demonstrate good cause to support the appropriate findings under the Speedy Trial Act.”
Part of the facts, according to the document, is the additional time needed by the prosecution to process thousands of pages of investigative reports and documents received from foreign law enforcement agencies.
In addition, Mr Anifowoshe’s lawyer, Lakeshia Dorsey, who is a Deputy Federal Public Defender, said she would not have the needed time to prepare for the case on the current date because of three of her other cases already scheduled for November and January.
Also, the defence lawyers said they needed additional time “to confer with defendants, conduct and complete an independent investigation of the case, conduct and complete additional legal research including for potential pre-trial motions, review the discovery and potential evidence in the case, and prepare for trial in the event that a pretrial resolution does not occur.”
They maintained that failure to grant the application for postponement of trial “would deny them reasonable time necessary for effective preparation, taking into account the exercise of due diligence.”
On their part, the three defendants, who are on bail and being defended by government’s public defenders “believe that failure to grant the continuance (postponement application) will deny them continuity of counsel and adequate representation.”
The U.S. government is not objecting to the application, the document stated.
But the application clarified that the application is neither based on congestion of the court’s calendar” nor on lack of diligent preparation on the part of the attorney for the government or the defence.
It added that it was not based on failure on the part of the attorney for the government to obtain available witnesses.
Trial may be separated
With three of the defendants still abroad, there is an indication that prosecutors are considering severing the trial to enable the case to proceed against the three available defendants.
“All defendants are joined for trial and a severance has not been granted,” the document stated.
The U.S. Acting Attorney for the Central District of California and U.S. Assistant Attorney, Khaldoun Shobaki, signed the application on behalf of the U.S. government.
Ms Fashola with her lawyer, Edward Robinson; Ms Agbabiaka with her lawyer, Daniel Nardoni, and Mr Anifowoshe with his lawyer, Lakeshia Monique Dorsey, endorsed the application.