The trial opened yesterday before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in the case against Senate President Bukola Saraki, after his last-minutes attempt to stay proceedings failed.
Saraki, who is facing a 13-count false assets declaration charge, was arraigned before the tribunal late last year. The prosecution has been unable to open the trial in view of the several hurdles raised by Saraki, including challenging the CCT’s jurisdiction, the competence of the charge and the propriety of his trial before the tribunal, among others. He went up to the Supreme Court.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling last February, directing Saraki to submit himself for trial before the CCT, Saraki again objected to his trial and applied for a stay of proceedings, which the tribunal rejected yesterday and directed the prosecution to open its case.
Prosecution lawyer Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) called his first witness, who gave details of how Saraki allegedly siphoned Kwara State’s funds, while he was the governor between 2003 and 2011.
The witness, an operative of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Michael Wetkas, who said he was part of the team that investigated the various petitions against Saraki, said among others, that Saraki was aided by Guaranty Trust Bank officials in the alleged funds diversion.
Wetkas, who was led in evidence by Jacobs, said the investigation of the petitions against Saraki was carried out by a team drawn from the EFCC, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and others. He told the tribunal that Saraki used his domestic aides to lodge funds he allegedly looted from the Kwara State treasury into an account he opened with the bank.
He said one of the aides, Abdul Adama, made cash lodgements 50 times on the same account to the tune of between N600, 000 to N900, 000 in one day. Another domestic worker, simply identified as Ubi, made 20 cash lodgements into the same account the same day.
Wetkas said: “The defendant was the governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011. Shortly after the expiration of his second term in 2011, the EFCC received several petitions from various groups. One of them is Kwara Freedom Network. While investigating the petitions, the EFCC received an intelligence report in 2014 about some suspicious transactions relating to the defendant.
“On the receipt of the report, the Chairman (of EFCC) set up a team of three investigators, led by myself and two others – Chris Odofin and Nura Bako.
“Our finding on the intelligence report revealed that there were several companies, which are linked to the defendant. Some of these companies include Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited and Skyview Properties Ltd, Tiny-Tee and several others.
Some of these companies maintain accounts with GTB, Zenith Bank, Intercontinental Bank (now Access Bank Plc).
“We discovered that the defendant maintained three accounts with GTB, one a naira account, another is US dollars account and the third is pound sterling account.
“The accounts were analysed in the course of the investigation. The first account, which is a naira account, was analysed. And it was discovered that between 2005 and 2013, the account had total inflow and outflow of over N4billion.
“We also discovered that the major source of inflow into the account was loans taken from GTB within the period. The loan disbursement into the account ýwas about N2.5billion and other source of inflow into the account was massive cash lodgements by individuals. Other inflow was from Cailise Properties and Investment Limited.
“My Lord, it was also discovered that most inflows into the account was basically used for acquisition of properties.
“The dollar account was also analysed. We discovered that the major source of inflow into the account was from Cailisýe Properties and Investment Limited, which was over $2m. Another source of inflow into the account was from bureau de change companies, as well as cash lodgements by individuals.
“The total turnover of the dollar account between 2009 and 2013 was over $6m. The total inflow into the account we discovered that up to $3.4m ýwas wired to American Express Services Europe Limited, which was used to fund the defendants’ American Express Service New York Card account number 374588216836009.
“The other part of fund into the dollar account was changed into pound sterling and also wired to UK to Fortis Bank for the purchase of a property in London. The amount wired was over £1.5m.
“Because of the suspicious inflow into the account with GTB, it became necessary to invite the bank officials.
“The reason for the invitation of the bank officials is because some of the individuals making cash lodgements into the account were staff of the bank.
“That was why we invited them. One Oluwa Sojimu reported to the EFCC. From our interaction with him, we discovered that the money he lodged into the account was given to him by his superior in the bank, and that superior is Mr. Bayo Abdulraheem Dauda. Dauda is the Relationship Manager of the account referred to.
“Upon our interaction with Mr. Daudaý, it was discovered that the cash sums were handed to him for lodgement by the defendant, according to him, used to be called to the Kwara State Government House at Ilorin to collect those cash sums.
“The cash given to him were normally lodged at GTB located at GRA in Ilorin. From the lodgements, we discovered that one Ubi, who we don’t have his second name, on a single day, made five separate lodgements of N77m.
“We also discovered another name, Abdul Adama, who on a single day made lodgements 50 times on the same account. The sum was broken down between N600, 000 to N900, 000. Shortly after the lodgements by Adama, the same Ubi made lodgements on the same day 20 times in the same range of N600, 000 to N900, 000.
“We looked for Adama and invited him. He also reported and stated that the cash sums were handed over to him by the defendant and stated further that the sum that was lodged into the same account by Ubi was from him.
“Both Adama and Ubi were personal assistants to the defendant while he was governor. Adama was personal assistant to the defendant on domestic matters.
“After these individuals made the lodgements, the pattern of the cash movement changed. The range of the figure (N600, 000 to N900, 000) was still the same, but what changed was that this time several individuals were making the lodgements in large numbers on the same day.
“Further investigations revealed that those individuals were fictitious. The investigation team took up the matter with the bank and they said that they had done the needful by drawing a report and forwarding same to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), and they furnished evidence to that effect.
“We submitted our investigative report and findings. Based on that, the then Executive Chairman of the EFCC said since there were other teams investigating petitions against the defendant, he therefore directed that we harmonise the investigation.
“Analysis of the forms; some infractions were observed on some of the forms.
“We discovered that property known as 15 Mcdonald, Ikoyi, Lagos, which was purshased through a company, Hitel Limited, was not declared in the forms. We also discovered that 17A and 17B of Mcdonald, Ikoyi, Lagos was bought for aggregate sum of N497.2m in 2006.
The witness said Saraki acquired landed assets at 17, 17A and 17B Mcdonald, Ikoyi, Lagos between 2006 and 2007 for an aggregate sum of N497,200,000.
He said the Senate President failed to declare his property at Plot 2A, Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which which he bought for N325,000,000 between 2007 and 2008, through his company, Carlisle Properties
He said the accused also failed to declare property at 37A, Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which he allegedly bought through Carlisle Properties
Wetkas said Saraki also failed to declare the property at No. 1, Targus Street, Maitama, Abuja, otherwise known as 2482, Cadastral Zone A06, Abuja in September 16, 2003.
Saraki was said to have also failed to declare No. 3 Targus Street, Maitama, Abuja otherwise known as 2482, Cadastral Zone A06, Abuja, which he acquired from Alhaji Attahiru Adamu.
He was also said to have failed to declare his leasehold interest in No. 42, Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja, Lagos, which he acquired through his company Skyview Properties Limited from Firs Finance Trust Limited.
Certified True Copies of Saraki’s asset declaration forms, which he submitted to the CCB between 2003 and 2015, marked: KWSE001440 on assumption of office between 2003 and 2015 were admitted in evidence. Saraki’s lawyer, Paul Usoro (SAN), who did not object to the admission of the documents, said he would reserve his objection.
As the witness spoke, Saraki, dressed in a white native attire (agbada), a white cap and a pair of black shoes, sat quietly in the accused box and maintained his gaze at the tribunal members. He occasionally stared at the ceiling.
A few minutes to 4pm, Usoro sought the postponement of proceedings to another day to enable his client and other senators, who are Muslims, to pray.
Tribunal Chairman Danladi Umar adjourned the proceedings till today for Wetkas to continue his testimony.
Earlier, the tribunal rejected an application by Usoro forproceedings in the case to be stayed pending the determination of an application he filed before the Court of Appeal.
Ruling, Umar noted that the essence of the ACJA was to ensure speedy disposal of criminal ýcases, adding that it had earlier held that it had the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the case.
“At the last adjourned date, this matter was fixed for hearing. The natural thing to do now is to commence trial. The prosecution is hereby ordered to produce its witnesses. Even if the defendant wants to appeal against ýour ruling, that will not stop the hearing scheduled today, provided the prosecution has its witnesses ready.
“Section 306 of the ACJA, 2015, clearly states that application for stay of proceeding in a criminal matter should not be entertained. We hold that the substantive matter before us will proceed for hearing”, Umar held.