• Witness: Senate president had 16 cars worth N263.4m before he was governor
• Fresh trouble for Umar as ex-Customs officer asks him to step down
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
Senate President Bukola Saraki has alleged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) sitting in Abuja that his assets declaration form of 2003 was tampered with, citing it as the reason the original copy of the form was not presented before the tribunal.
Saraki is standing trial for false assets declaration when he was the governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
At the resumed trial yesterday, counsel to Saraki, Paul Erokoro (SAN), made the allegation while cross-examining the prosecution witness, Michael Wetkas.
Under cross-examination, Wetkas was asked whether he saw the original copy of Exhibit 1, which was Saraki’s assets declaration form in the course of investigation. Wetkas initially stated that he never saw the original copy, but on second thought, he reversed himself stating that he sighted the form shown to him by one Samuel Majemu of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
When asked why the original copy of the form was not brought before the tribunal, Wetkas stated that he always worked with the certified true copy furnished by the CCB because it was a replica of the original and it served the same purpose.
It was at that point that Erokoro submitted that “whoever is prosecuting the defendant is hiding something by not bringing the original copy before this tribunal”.
“If it is important for the investigative team to see the original, then why is it not important for the tribunal to see it?” he asked.
Wetkas however denied the allegation, saying the form was filled and signed by Saraki before a competent judge.
When the witness was asked if he was aware that the assets declaration form submitted by Saraki in 2003 was tampered with since it contained some entries of properties that were not put on sale by the federal government until 2006, Wetkas said: “As far as I am concerned, Exhibit 1 was signed by the defendant himself on September 16, 2003.”
Also when asked if he inserted the properties located at Nos. 15B and B McDonald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, he denied doing so.
When also asked if he knew who did it, the witness stated that “the Code of Conduct Bureau is a responsible organisation and he would not believe it would have done that”.
Still under cross-examination, the witness admitted that the defendant was worth $22 million, £12 million, €2.6 million and N4 billion in cash, and owned movable and landed assets before he became governor of Kwara State in 2003 as was contained in his asset declaration form of 2003.
Erokoro then led Wetkas to read from the asset declaration form, which Saraki submitted to the CCB on assumption of office as governor in 2003.
Erokoro submitted that he needed to take Wetkas through the form to debunk the impression created by the witness during his testimony earlier that Saraki could not afford to have bought property without obtaining a bank loan.
Wetkas confirmed that there were 16 vehicles in the form cumulatively worth N263,400,000.
The vehicles were a Mercedes Benz S320 valued at N16 million; Mercedes S500 valued at N20 million; Mercedes G500 valued at N6 million; Mercedes V220 valued at N2 million; Ferrari 456GT valued at N25 million; Navigator valued at N15 million; Mercedes MN240 valued at N8.5 million; and Peugeot 405 valued at N2.9 million.
Other vehicles included a Mercedes CLK 320 valued at N9 million; Mercedes E320 valued at N11 million; Mercedes G500 bullet proof valued at N45 million; Mercedes S500 valued at N30 million; Lexus jeep bullet-proof valued at N30 million; and Lincoln Navigator bullet proof valued at N25 million.
“By my calculation, the total worth is N263,400,000,” Wetkas said.
He further confirmed that Saraki’s landed property was worth between N2.5 billion and N3.5 billion, and further put Saraki’s cash at N50 million.
He also confirmed that the total assets declared by Saraki including that of his wife and his two children under 18 in 2003 was worth $22 million, £12 million, €2.6 million and N4 billion.
The tribunal adjourned till today for continuation.
The tribunal had earlier dismissed a request by the prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), requesting that Saraki should only use a particular counsel for the cross-examination of a witness.
It was the first ruling so far given by the tribunal in favour of Saraki since the commencement of the trial, as previous applications by the Senate president never succeeded.
Saraki’s lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), had asked the tribunal to allow a different counsel, Erokoro, to go ahead with the cross-examination of the witness, who was previously examined by another of Saraki’s lawyers, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN).
Jacobs however objected to the application and asked the tribunal to ensure that Saraki’s lead counsel be the only one to cross-examine Wetkas, who is the first prosecution witness to testify against Saraki.
Jacobs cited Section 349(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to support his point that only the lead counsel should cross-examine Wetkas.
But a member of the bench, Mr. William Atedze, told Jacobs that the section alluded to, did not require the use of only the lead counsel for the said cross-examination.
Erokoro further said that the law allows Saraki to have as many representatives as he wants, and that the defence had not acted outside the provisions of the law.
In his ruling, the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, ruled that the tribunal would act based on the provisions of the law.
He added that while the defence counsel should not abandon the case at any point, the defendant had the right to be represented by as many counsel as possible.
In a related development, a retired Customs officer, Mr. Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, who is standing trial on charges of false assets declaration before the tribunal has asked its chairman to disqualify himself from the panel that will try him, because of his involvement in an unresolved N10 million bribery allegation.
The ex-Customs chief claimed that Umar in 2012 demanded a bribe of N10 million from him to pervert the cause of justice in the case filed against him by the federal government.
In a motion on notice filed by his counsel, Mr. Festus Keyamo, the applicant claimed that he reported Umar to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) prompting his arrest and interrogation on the alleged bribery request.
Owolabi claimed that he would never get a fair trial and justice from the CCT boss, having implicated him in the bribery saga and which led to the ongoing trial of the personal assistant to the CCT chairman, Ali Gambo Abdullahi, for the criminal offence at an Abuja High Court.
Owolabi alleged that the CCT boss was biased against him for dragging him (Umar) to the anti-graft agency over his demand for the N10 million and the part payment of N1.8 million to Mr. Abdullahi, hence he could not get justice before Umar’s tribunal as required by law.
Owolabi is billed to appear before the tribunal today on the false declaration of assets charges slammed against him since June 6, 2012 and is praying that the charge be struck out for want of diligent prosecution and the likelihood of bias against him.
The motion was predicated on five issues, among which are that during the pendency of his trial he made several allegations of graft against the CCT chairman, which led to the trial of his PA in respect of the allegation.
He insisted that it had become legally impossible for the CCT chairman to adjudicate over the matter because of a real likelihood of bias by Umar against him.
In a three-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion, the applicant claimed that in the course of his trial, he had reason to raise allegations of graft against the CCT boss.
He averred that in the course of investigation by EFCC, Mr. Abdullahi, the PA to the CCT boss, admitted in his statement that he collected certain sums of money from the applicant as inducement and that he handed over the money to the CCT chairman.
The deponent claimed that based on the EFCC findings, a coalition of civil rights groups under the auspices of the Registered Trustees of the Mission for Peace and Development Initiative filed a court action at the Federal High Court seeking an order of mandamus from the court to compel the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to file a criminal indictment against the CCT boss.
The applicant therefore asked Umar to disqualify himself from the CCT panel billed to try him on the grounds that he (the applicant) would not get a fair trial and justice from any trial conducted by Umar.