Justice Ngwuta released on bail. trial begins Dec. 7

Justice Ngwuta
Justice Ngwuta

Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, yesterday, released Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court on bail to the tune of N100 million despite stiff opposition from the Federal Government.
Ngwuta secured bail on a day he was docked on a 16-count criminal charge bordering on money laundering, age falsification and illegal possession of multiple international passports, contrary to Section 10 (1) (a) of the Immigration Act 2015.
Trial Justice James Tsoho said he released the accused jurist on bail, in view of his status as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He said there was nothing before the court to show that Ngwuta had in any way breached the administrative bail earlier given to him by the Department of State Services, DSS.
This came on a day Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, lamented that corrupt practices were exposing the Judiciary to criticisms and asked judges to align with President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft war.
Justice Ngwuta had shortly after he pleaded not guilty to all the charges, begged the court to grant him bail on self-recognition, pending the hearing and determination of the case against him.
Addressing the court through his lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, the defendant insisted that charges against him were bailable offences.
Agabi, a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, predicated the bail request on sections 32, 158 and 162 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, as well as Section 35 (1) of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
Ngwuta’s bail application was supported by a 14-paragraph affidavit that was deposed to by one Enoh Abasi Eboh.
“The defendant is presumed innocent until your lordship pronounces him guilty. My lord, these are grave charges and we take them seriously. In spite of the law, it is your discretion that matters and must prevail at the end of the day.
“The defendant has a title which no one can take away from him. He is more than anyone in this court, anxious to defend his name. If you grant him bail, he will attend his trial. There is no running away.
“Alternatively, I pray your lordship to grant the defendant an affordable bail. The law makes provision for bail on self-recognition. If a man of the rank and status of the defendant cannot get bail on self-recognition, it means that that portion of the law is no longer relevant”, Agabi submitted.
However, the Federal Government vehemently opposed Ngwuta’s bail application, insisting that the defendant had the capacity to interfere with prosecution witnesses.
According to the government, shortly after Ngwuta was granted administrative bail by the DSS, he quickly called one of the proposed witnesses to help him conceal some of the evidence against him, including N27million he hid in his bathroom at Abakaliki in Ebonyi State.
“We very regrettably have to object to the application for bail of the defendant. The defendant has placed all of us in this court room in very difficult situation. I ordinarily would not have objected to an application for bail in respect of a man of his calibre and standing. What we have in this situation is peculiar and unique in many aspects.
“There are sufficient ground of believing that the defendant will interfere with potential prosecution witness and or the evidence which might be adduced. We are of the opinion that there is a substantial likelihood that the defendant may conceal and or destroy evidence.
“The least of our worries is that the defendant may evade his trial. We are concerned about it, but we are not worried about it as the other factors I just mentioned”, head of the prosecution team, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Philips, stated.
In a 29-paragraph counter-affidavit deposed to by one Ganau Noma Wando, the Federal Government also told the court that barely 20 minutes after Justice Ngwuta was released from DSS custody, he called one of the witnesses, Mr. Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, to go to his house in Abakaliki and dispose off the money and cars in his compound.
“The first instruction was ‘Go and get rid of those cars’. The second instruction was ‘go into my bathroom at my residence where you will find two or three bags, get rid of it immediately’.
“If the witness had gotten into the bathroom and found bags stuffed with newspapers, we won’t be raising this objection today. But the bags contained N27m which they removed from the defendant’s residence to another place. We could not even find it again.”
The prosecution also told the court that the defendant also removed three exotic cars.
“As at October 9, the defendant was already aware that he was subject of investigation by the DSS. In fact, he had been in their custody for two nights and was interviewed for that 48 hours. He was aware that the subject matter of the items removed from his residence at Abakaliki would have been of interest to this investigation. This has put me in a very difficult situation, so much so that the defendant is charged with interference in count three.
“In count 10-16 in the charges, the defendant was alleged to have maintained multiple identities. My lord, in any jurisdiction in the world, if a person is found to have multiple identities, I cannot but object to his release on self recognition or being released at all.
“On October 8, a day before the call was made to Abakaliki, the defendant was found with four valid passports. Two of them were diplomatic passports while two were standard passports. It did not stop there, it transpired from investigation by the Nigerian Immigration Service that earlier in the year, the defendant had declared two of those passports lost.
“Now we are confronted with such acts of dishonesty, with offences committed while in administrative bail.
“However, if your lordship is minded to grant bail, we urge that it must be most stringent. It is not enough that he was found with four passports, but the NIS confirmed that he was using the passports concurrently and interchangeably.
“We only found four, there might be others. How do we know? When we searched his residence in Abuja we didn’t know there was N27m in his bathroom at his private residence located at Engineering Close, Off Onwe Road, Abakaliki Ebonyi State”, the prosecution counsel added.
It told the court that the witness, Nwamba, initially hid the bag that contained the N27m cash at the residence of one Abraham Ezeani in Abakaliki, saying the money “was subsequently dissipated by Mr Nwamba on the direct instructions of the defendant/applicant.”
It listed the three exotic cars that Ngwuta allegedly attempted to conceal, as a Hummer Jeep Sports Utility Vehicle, Wrangler Jeep Sports Utility Vehicle and a BMW 5 Series Sedan Vehicle which it said was quickly moved by the defendant to Clevero Hotel in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.
The Federal Government said the properties which were derived from the “proceeds of an unlawful act”, were all subsequently recovered by investigators on November 11, following Nwamba’s arrest, weeks after the defendant had been released on administrative bail.
The Federal Government continued: “The sheer amount of raw cash either found on and/or concealed by the Defendant/Applicant following his arrest by the DSS, is indicative of the fact that he is a man of immense financial means and is sufficient ground for believing that if released on bail, he possesses the material ability to abscond and consequently not surrender himself for trial.
“In view of the foregoing, despite his position as a serving Justice of the Supreme Court bench, it cannot be said that the Defendant/Applicant conduct as outlined above, is that of a law abiding Nigerian citizen who will surrender himself to the court for trial.”
In his ruling, Justice Tsoho noted that despite the allegations the Federal Government raised against Ngwuta in the counter-affidavit, it still did not revoke the administrative bail it previously gave the defendant through the DSS.
He said there was room for such bail to be revoked once the person it was granted to was seen to have breached it in anyway.
Besides, the Judge said it was no longer secret that security agencies had been monitoring the defendant since the day he was released from custody.
He held that the objection by the prosecution was founded on theories of what the defendant would likely do, if granted bail, saying he was of the view that the Federal Government has the security apparatus to circumvent whatever action the defendant could take to scuttle his trial.
Justice Tsoho held that the essence of Justice would be defeated should the court curtail the liberty of the defendant based on mere suspicion.
He reproduced an affidavit that was deposed by an operative of the DSS on November 8, wherein it averred that investigation was already completed in the matter and wondered how the defendant could interfere with an investigation that was already completed.
“This court was not informed that the defendant attempted to escape while on administrative bail. Finally, I hold the respected view that offences against the defendant are bailable. No reason was adduced to stop this court from exercising its discretion to grant bail to the defendant.
“Consequently, this court is minded to grant the defendant bail in the sum of N100m on his personal recognition having regard to his status as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria”, Justice Tsoho held.
The court later fixed December 7 and 8 to commence full-blown hearing on the matter.
The prosecution had earlier informed the court that one of his witnesses was present and willing to immediately commence his Evidence-In-Chief.
It would be recalled that Justice Ngwuta was among seven superior court judges that were arrested between October 7 and 8, after the DSS raided their homes in what it termed “a sting operation”.
He was in the amended charge marked FHC/ABJ/C/232, and signed by a Principal State Counsel, Hajara H. Yusuf, alleged to have among other offences, stashed foreign currencies in his Abuja home.
The Federal Government said the DSS, at the end of the search operation, conducted at Ngwuta’s official residence, recovered several sums of cash, including the sum of Thirty-Five Million, Three Hundred and Fifty-Eight Thousand Naira (NGN35,358,000.00); Three Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Five Hundred and Ninety- Six United States Dollars ($319,596.00); Twenty-Five Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifteen Pounds Sterling (GBP 25,915) and Two Hundred and Eighty Euros (E280.00).
Federal Government has lined-up five witnesses that will testify against Ngwuta.
The witnesses are Aminu N Ibrahim, who is to testify on the search conducted on the defendant’s residence on or about October 7 and 8; Ngo Awoikiega, who will testify on the investigation/interrogation of the Defendant.
Others are Mr. Tanko Nuhu Kutana, an Immigration Officer, who will testify on the multiple Diplomatic and Standard Nigerian Passports obtained by the Defendant.
Ogudu Nwadire will tell the court how, as an Architect to the defendant between 2014 and 2016, he handled several projects for which he received cash payments totalling $100,000.00.
While Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka will testify on how, as a building contractor to the defendant between 2014 and 2016, he handled several projects for which he received cash payments from the Defendant totalling $1,000,000.00.
The DSS official responsible for the investigation of the case, Bamai Abu Nehemiah, had deposed an affidavit of completion of investigation into the matter.
According to him: “That I was informed by Hajara H. Yusuf, a Principal State Counsel in the Department of Public Prosecutions of the Federation at her office at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja FCT on Monday, 18th day of October, 2016 at about 12 noon that it is the opinion of the Department of Public Prosecution that the investigations conducted in this case have so far revealed a prima faciecase against the Defendant.”
Among exhibits the Federal Government said it would tender against the defendant, include search warrant; cash recovered from the defendant’s residence; Video CDs of the defendant’s interview; Statement of the defendant dated October 12, 17, 24, 25 and 27 as well as statements of all the witnesses made from November 7 to 13.
Others are House Upkeep And Project Account by Ogudu Nwadire, Photographs search at the Defendant’s House, NIS Data base printouts of the Defendant’s e-passport (both standard and diplomatic); Defendant’s travel history; Sworn Affidavit submitted by the subject prior to renewal/cancellation of any one of his passports; E-Official/Diplomatic Passport Data Form, Bill of costs and Order of Payment from Base 4 Services Ltd by Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, Pictures of houses under construction belonging to the Defendant.

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