A United States court has rescheduled the trial of Abba Kyari, a suspended top Nigerian police officer, and five others, for alleged $1.1 million fraud coordinated by Ramon Abbas, aka Hushpuppi.
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rescheduled the trial from May to October 2022 based on a joint request by the prosecution and three of Mr Kyari’s co-defendants.
This comes amid uncertainties plaguing the extradition proceedings filed against Mr Kyari at the Federal High Court in Abuja, where he is also undergoing trial on cocaine-trafficking charges.
PREMIUM TIMES reported in September last year that the parties applied for postponement of the trial to give the defence lawyers of three of the defendants more time to prepare for the case.
Ruling on March 29, 2022, the judge, Otis Wright, agreed that not granting the parties’ request could “deny defence counsel the reasonable time necessary for effective preparation, taking into account the exercise of due diligence.”
He also said it “would unreasonably deny defendant continuity of counsel” and could make “proceeding impossible or result in a miscarriage of justice” if the court rejected the postponement request.
The judge, therefore, postponed the trial from May 17, 2022, until October 11, 2022.
“Defendants shall appear in Courtroom 5D of the Federal Courthouse, 350 W. 1st Street, Los Angeles, California on October 11, 2022, at 9:00 a.m.,” the judge ordered in the ruling, a copy of which PREMIUM TIMES obtained on Friday.
The ruling made it the second postponement of the trial, which the court originally scheduled to start on October 12, 2021. But based on the parties’ request, the court had shifted the trial to May 17, 2022, and, in the latest ruling, to October 11, 2022.
The three co-defendants who joined the prosecution to call for the postponement are all U.S.-based.
The three co-defendants – Rukayat Fashola (aka Morayo), Bolatito Agbabiaka (aka Bolamide), and Yusuf Anifowoshe (aka AJ and Alvin Johnson) – have been released from custody on bail ahead of trial.
The rest of the defendants – Mr Kyari, Abdulrahman Juma, and Kelly Chibuzo Vincent – are outside the U.S. and “remain at large”, the U.S. prosecuting authorities have said.
The prosecution planned to conclude the trial within six days even with Mr Kyari and two of the defendants still at large.
In justifying the application for postponement of the trial in their joint application last year, the applicants said the U.S. government had already handed to the defence approximately 2.31 GB of data comprising 2,707 electronic files.
They added that prosecutors were processing approximately 6,773 pages of additional discovery expected to be produced for the trial.
Uncertainties of Kyari’s extradition
Back in Nigeria, Mr Kyari faces a just-starting trial on charges of illegal dealing in cocaine, alongside the extradition proceedings recently filed against him based on the U.S. government’s request to Nigeria to surrender him for trial in California.
While Mr Kyari was on suspension over his indictment for fraud by the U.S. government last year, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) arrested him in February, and subsequently charged him and six others, including four members of his former police unit, with illegal dealing in cocaine.
Both the criminal trial on narcotic offences and extradition hearing are taking place separately before two judges of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
At its current pace, the extradition hearing, hobbled by the country’s unwieldy judicial process, is unlikely to end before October when the trial in the U.S is expected to start.
Yet, Mr Kyari reserves the right to appeal up to the Supreme Court even if the court orders his extradition at the end of the ongoing proceedings.
This makes the future of the extradition process uncertain, even as the trial court has recently ordered his continued detention pending the conclusion of the cocaine-trafficking trial.
Lawyers also say Mr Kyari’s ongoing trial on cocaine-related charges may scuttle the prospect of the extradition proceedings because of section 3 (6) of Nigeria’s Extradition Act.
The provision, according to lawyers, exempts a suspect standing trial in Nigeria from being extradited to a foreign country until the conclusion of the Nigerian trial or the conclusion of a prison sentence.
When asked about this recently, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, only said there was no confusion about the two cases without clarifying the impact one would likely have on the other.
The trial may be separated
With three of the defendants still abroad, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California and Assistant United States Attorney, Khaldoun Shobaki, hinted at a separation of trial In the application for trial postponement.
“All defendants are joined for trial and a severance has not been granted,” the document signed by Mr Shobaki on behalf of the U.S. government stated.
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.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said in court documents released in July last year that all six defendants including Mr Kyari, were co-conspirators in the $1.1 million fraud coordinated by Hushpuppi, a former Nigerian Instagram celebrity.
A Qatari businessperson was the victim of the scheme perpetrated between November 2019 and April 2020, the FBI had said.
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.
He and his co-defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and aggravated identity theft.
Hushpuppi has pleaded guilty to various fraud activities, including the $1.1 million scheme in another case before the U.S. district court in Central California. He is now awaiting sentencing in July this year.
He was arrested in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, in June 2020, and flown to the U.S. for trial.
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