The Federal Government on Wednesday said investigations had revealed that a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, spent over N500m between January and October 2016 despite his total annual legitimate income, including his allowances being N24m.
This was contained in a document prepared by the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Philips, summarising the case of the prosecution against the Justice of the Supreme Court, who was on November 21, 2016, arraigned before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
During his arraignment, Ngwuta pleaded not guilty to 16 counts, including money laundering and others relating to fraudulent obtainment of multiple passports.
The trial judge, Justice John Tsoho, adjourned till January 16, 2017, for the prosecution to start calling its witnesses.
The document, prepared in anticipation that the prosecution would be allowed to open its case on Wednesday, stated that the case brought against the judge, “chronicles corrupt enrichment, violations of the money laundering laws of our land, passport fraud, and an attempt to obstruct justice by a judicial officer”.
The prosecution alleged that from the N500m, the apex court justice transferred dollar equivalent of N313m cash in $100 bills to a building contractor within the period of nine months between January and September, 2016, to “develop several landed properties” for him.
It explained that earlier in 2015, the defendant, within a period of one month, made various cash payments totalling $180,000 to the building contractor.
It also alleged that during the raid on the defendant’s Abuja house by the operatives of the Department of State Services on October 7, 2016, total sums of N38.358m, $319,596 and £25,915 were found in his possession.
According to the prosecution, the Justice of the apex court gave no satisfactory explanation for the huge sums of money found in his possession.
The document partly read, “Another witness will testify before this court that the defendant’s total annual income, including allowances in 2016 amounted to approximately N24,000,000.
“It beggars belief how a serving public servant could have under his direct control, in a 10-month period spanning between January and October alone, cash sums in excess of N500,000,000.”
Adeogun-Philips said proposed prosecution witnesses would also appear in court to testify over the huge funds found in possession of the defendant, among other allegations.
The document stated, “In the course of this trial, the Federal Republic of Nigeria will adduce evidence from a building contractor engaged by the defendant, as to how in a period of nine months, spanning between January and September 2016, he received the total sum of N313,000,000 from the defendant in cash, which was paid to him mostly in $100 bills to develop landed properties for the defendant.
“This court will also hear from another witness, how in his capacity as an architect engaged by the defendant in 2015, he received from the defendant within a period of one month, various cash payments totalling $180,000.
“Investigators will further tell this honourable court how during a search at his residence on October 7, 2016, cash totalling: (1) N35,358,000 (2) $319,956 and £25,915 were found in the defendant’s possession.”
The prosecution alleged that the defendant had betrayed “the judicial oath of allegiance to discharge his duties as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, faithfully, with honesty, and to the best of his abilities”, which he swore to on June 23, 2011 when he was promoted to the Supreme Court bench.
The prosecuting lawyer also stated that he would lead evidence on how the defendant, on October 9, 2016, a day after being granted administrative bail by the DSS in Abuja, prevailed on a potential prosecution witness on the telephone to help him to move some bags containing title documents of landed assets and N27m cash away from his house in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.
Adeogun-Philips stated, “The court will, in the course of this trial, hear how the defendant, having been confronted with the maze of evidence against him, following the search of his official residence in Abuja and his subsequent arrest on October 7, 2016, and oblivious of being under DSS surveillance, prevailed on a potential prosecution witness following his release on administrative bail on October 9, 2016, to remove from his bathroom at his private residence in Ebonyi State several bags containing several land title documents and the sum of N27m cash.
“The evidence will also reveal how the defendant ordered the same witness to remove three luxury vehicles from his residence following which the said vehicles were subsequently concealed at various locations in Ebonyi State in an attempt to obstruct ongoing investigations in this case.”
He also said the evidence to be led by the prosecution would reveal “how the defendant, deliberately misled the Nigeria Immigration Service into issuing him four valid passports – two diplomatic and two standard Nigerian passports – having previously declared to the said service on oath that he had lost two of these passports”.
“The defendant was later found with all four passports during a search at his residence on October 7, 2016,” the prosecution stated.
Adeogun-Philips added, “It is for these reasons that the defendant is standing trial before this honourable court today. By the end of this trial, I am confident that the prosecution would have established beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is indeed guilty of the offences charged.”
The prosecution was scheduled to call its first set of witnesses against Justice Ngwuta on Wednesday, but the defendant, through his lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), begged the trial judge, Justice John Tsoho, to further adjourn the case to afford him (Ngwuta) more time to prepare for his defence.
He said his client was eager to defend himself, “But unfortunately we still have a lot to do to be sufficiently ready.”
He cited section 36(6) of the constitution which he said entitled any person accused of criminal offences to be given the “time and facilities” to defend himself.
He said, “There are some documents we still need to access from the prosecution. Under our constitution the defendant should be given enough time.
“I urge your lordship to direct the prosecution to avail us of all the documents they intend to use so that we can be fully prepared.”
Prosecutor opposes adjournment
But Adeogun-Philips, who said a lot of resources had been expended to bring three of the prosecution witnesses to court on Wednesday, opposed the application for adjournment.
He opposed the application on the grounds that both parties had on November 21, after the arraignment of the defendant, consented to the commencement of the trial on Wednesday.
Insisting that all the documents the prosecution would use had been front-loaded and served on the defendant along with the charges, he added that the application for adjournment also violated section 396(3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, “which provides for day-to-day trial upon arraignment until the conclusion of trial.”
He also said the adjournment would also violate the provisions of the court’s Practice Direction 2013.
He suggested that if the court was willing to grant the adjournment, the prosecution should be allowed to call its witness and give the defence another date to cross-examine the witness.
Defence lawyer seeks adjournment
Responding on point of law, Agabi said day-to-day trial was impracticable and that under section 396(4) of ACJA, the defendant was entitled to seek adjournment five times throughout the period of the trial in the event of the impracticability of day-to-day trial.
But ruling, Justice Tsoho agreed with the defence lawyer on the grounds that the provision of the constitution overrides the provision of the ACJA.
He said that the time and facilities which the provision of Section 36(6) of the constitution provides must be afforded the accused person which could extend to “emotional and psychological” readiness.