The trial of the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, over alleged false declaration of assets has finally begun Tuesday after efforts to force an adjournment by his lawyers failed.
First prosecution witness, Michael Wetkast, was cross-examined by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs.
Commencement of trial was preceded by arguments by defence counsel, Paul Usoro, who informed the tribunal of an application for stay of proceedings at the Court of Appeal challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the matter.
The chairman of the tribunal, Danladi Umar, ruled that the application before the Court of Appeal cannot stop the commencement of trial based on the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and adjourned till Wednesday, April 6.
Mr Usoro said that the process of appeal had been transmitted to the CCT and the record of appeal was before the Tribunal.
He explained that the prayer for adjournment was to essentially allow the Court of Appeal to entertain and arrive at a decision in the appeal, which it had graciously fixed a clear date of April 26, 2016 to hear.
The Senate President’s counsel also requested that the case should be adjourned on the ground that he was appearing for the first time in he case and that he was not fully briefed of the matter.
But the Prosecuting Counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs, opposed the application.
According to him, the CCT had adjourned the matter for trial to commence and he was ready with his witnesses to commence trial.
He said that the defence was aware that what they had filed could not stop the proceedings.
He said that the request for an adjournment was not based on the motion served on the prosecution but on an application of stay of proceedings pending before the Court of Appeal.
After the counter comments, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) ruled that it had jurisdiction in the case of alleged falsification of assets brought against Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The Tribunal said the natural thing to do was to proceed with the trial in spite of a request for an adjournment by counsel to the Senate President, Mr Usoro.
After that ruling the Tribunal proceeded with the hearing, with one of the witnesses, Micheal Wekpas, a detective superintendent with the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) giving a testimony of his involvement in the matter.
He said the anti-graft agency had received several petitions against Mr Saraki shortly after the second tenure of the Senate President as Governor of Kwara State.
One of such petitions, according to him, came from a group, Kwara Freedom Network, alleging misappropriation, corruption and money laundering.
The EFCC’s operative told the Tribunal that while investigations were going on sometime in 2014, the then chairman of the EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Lamorde, received intelligence report on suspicious transactions by the Senate President.
He said that after the report was received, Mr Lamorde set up a team of three investigators headed by him (the witness) and having two other officials of the anti-graft agency, Chris Odofin and Nura Bako, as members.
Their task was to further investigate the intelligence report and report back to the chairman of the commission.
The intelligence report was previewed by the team and in the process of further investigation, they discovered that there were several companies linked to the defendant.
According to Mr Wekpas, some of the companies include, Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited, Sky View Properties Limited, Limkers Nigeria Limited and Tinly-tee Limited.
He further told the Tribunal that some of the companies maintained accounts with Guaranty Trust Bank Plc (GTB), Zenith Bank Plc, Intercontinental Bank now Access Bank and other commercial banks.
Mr Wepkas further stated that the team also discovered three accounts with GTB, which were a Naira, Dollar and Pounds Sterling accounts.
The accounts, he said, were analysed in the course of investigation and it was discovered that between 2005 and 2013 the Naira account had total inflow and outflow of about four billion Naira and that the major source of inflow into the account was loans taken from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc within the period.
The loans taken into the account, according to the witness, was over 2.5 billion Naira.
He also told the Tribunal that the other source of inflow into the account was massive cash lodgements by individuals.
“Other inflows into the account was from the company, Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited owned by the Senate President.
“It was also discovered that the inflows into the account was used for acquisition of property,” he said.
The dollar account, according to the EFCC operative, was also analysed, with discoveries showing that the the major source of inflow into the dollar account was Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited which was over two million dollars.
The other sources of inflow into the account were from various Bureau De Change companies and other cash lodgements by individuals.
He told the Tribunal that the total turnover of the dollar account between 2009 and 2013 was over six million dollars.
“From the Inflow into the dollar account we discovered that up to 3.4 million dollars was wired to American Express Services Limited which was used to fund the Defendant American Express Service New York card account 37458836836009.
“The other funds from the dollar account, which was changed into Pound Sterling, was wired to Europe through Fortis Bank to purchase a property in London.
“Over £1.5 million was wired to Europe,” he said.
The witness said that from the telex transfer document that was available to them during investigations and also from the position of the bank, it was suggested that the account belonged to the defendant.
“After that, because of the suspicious nature of the inflows into the account, the bank officials were invited by the investigating team.
“The reason for the investigation was because some of the individuals making lodgements into the account were staff of the bank,” he further told the Tribunal.
According to him, one of the officials of the bank, Mr Oluwatojimu Ade Deji, who reported to the commission told the anti-graft agency that the monies lodged into the account were giving to him by his superiors in the bank, one of which was one Abdulraham Dauda who was the relationship manager of the said account.
Mr Wekpas added that while questioning Mr Dauda, it was discovered that cash was handed to him by the defendant.
“According to him, he used to go to the Government house in Kwara state to collect the sums,” the witness stated.
He further said that from the lodgements in the account one Ubi on a single day made five separate lodgements of over 77 million Naira.
“We also discovered another name Abdul Adamma, who on a single day also made 50 different cash lodgements into the same account in lodgements of 600,000 and 900,000 Naira.
“Shortly after that the same Ubi again made another set of lodgements into the same account 20 times in the same range,” he said.
In its further investigation, the team invited Mr Adamma who said that the sums were giving to him by the defendant.
They were said to be personal assistants to the defendant.
The witness also told the Tribunal that after lodgements by Mr Adamma and others, the pattern of the lodgements into the account changed.
“Even though lodgements were still made in 600,000 and 900,000 Naira, they were made by different individuals.
“Further investigation on those individuals revealed that those individuals were fictitious.
“The team took up the matter with the bank officials who said they had done the needful.
“By submitting a report to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, we were furnished with evidence to that effect.
“We furnished our report to the chairman who ordered that we harmonise our report with the investigation by other teams on the case – the Code of Conduct Bureau, Department of State Services and the EFCC,” he said in his testimony.
Infractions in Asset Declaration Form
Mr Wekpas also said that in the process of harmonising the evidence, he called the EFCC official, who represented the commission on that team of a Joint Committee on Asset Investigation one Mr Adamu Garba and was ordered to join the investigative team.
“So, all the findings were harmonised and sent to the legal department for advice.
“The legal department informed the investigative team that it conferred with the Ministry of Justice on the matter and that the Ministry Directed that the matter be referred to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“And that a joint team of the bureau and our team be established to conclude the investigation, especially as it relates to assets.
“One Mr Samuel Madu and Samuel Yahaya of the Code of Conduct Bureau were directed to join our team and they furnished us with the Assets Declaration Form filled and submitted by the defendant between 2003 and 2011,” he said.
The EFCC’s official further stated that the forms were analysed and the team invited the Managing Director of Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited owned by the Senate President.
“From our interaction with him, it was discovered that all the transaction in the account of the company were directed by the defendant.
“We requested the list of property managed by the company because we discovered that the major source of inflow into the account of the company was from rents by tenants.
“He promised to come back with the list of the property managed by the company but from that day he went underground and all efforts to get him proved abortive.
“We then declared him wanted because he never got back to the commission.
“Left with no option, the team obtained a search warrant from the court which we executed into office of Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited in Lagos.
“The team obtained a document containing a list of some of the property yielding interest to the company.
“Some were bought from the Presidential Implementation Committee and the Central Bank.
“We analysed these property with the ones on his Asset Declaration Form and found some infractions on the forms and two property were not reflected on the form,” he further told the court.
According to him, the property on the form were said to have been acquired from sales of sugar, but the EFCC discovered that it was bought from the loan he got from the bank which was repaid from the cash lodgements earlier referred to and made at Ilorin the capital of Kwara State.
He also told the Tribunal that another property was discovered in Abuja which was purchased in 1991. The property was not declared in his asset form.
The witness said that the team allegedly discovered that while he was in office, he maintained an American Express Service Card account with the American Express Bank New York.
After taking his testimony, the Tribunal adjourned its hearing till Wednesday, April 6.
In a statement issued after the seating of the Tribunal, Dr. Saraki said he was confident that if his trial was conducted fairly he would be vindicated.
A statement by his spokesman, Yusuph Olaniyonu, said Dr. Saraki was glad that his trial before the Tribunal on asset declaration in 2003 had finally commenced.