Again, FG Re-arraigns Justice Ngwuta on Amended 13-count Charge

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Alex Enumah in Abuja
The federal government on Tuesdday re-arraigned a Supreme Court judge, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, on a 13-count amended charge.

The federal government had earlier arraigned him on a 16-count charge bordering on corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes
But the federal government had on March 16 amended the charges to 12, before yesterday’s amendment, making it the second time the charges are amended.

In the latest charge, Ngwuta was accused of making a false statement concerning the loss of his diplomatic passport for the purpose of getting another one.

However, Justice Ngwuta pleaded not guilty to the 13 count charges when they were read to him.
His counsel, Kanu Agabi observed that the  prosecution is always of the assumption that they can amend charges anytime, “the law allows  them, in fact only they can carry out amendment but we will address the court on this as time goes on,” he said.

Meanwhile, the fifth prosecution witness, John Otazi, a Staff Officer of the Department of State Service (DSS) gave account of how he and his team carried out a search of the defendant’s residence in Abuja.
He said he was in the team that searched the home of the defendant on October 7, 2016 at Supreme Court Quarters, Abuja.

According to him, his boss called him on October 7, 2016 and asked him to proceed with others to execute a search warrant on the premises of the defendant.
Armed with a search warrant duly signed by an Abuja Magistrate Court, they arrived the defendants’ quarters and met him at home.

He said after a thorough search of the premises bags of money including that of various foreign currencies were recovered from wardrobes located in the defendant’s bedrooms.
“In one bedroom, we found two wardrobes. We saw bags, when we brought out the bags, searched them, we found large sums of money inside.

“In the second wardrobe, concealed with clothes, we found out that the two handles of the wardrobe were chained together with a padlock, we asked the defendant to open it,   when it was opened we saw many bags loaded with mainly foreign currencies.

“We went to another bedroom we also discovered money. In the study we discovered bank statements, building plans, documents relating to his salary and vehicle papers. He took us to another bedroom but nothing incriminating was found in that,” he said.

 “After the search we brought out the bags from upstairs to the sitting room downstairs where we counted all the items recovered, we did the documentation in presence of the defendant. I gave it to the defendant to see. He read through and counter signed.

“After his endorsement I assembled the items recovered and asked the defendant to search us again. He declined we also searched ourselves as he watched us. After, he followed us to the office,” he added.
The search warrant where items were documented was accepted by the court as evidence and marked exhibit 10.
Earlier, the fourth prosecution witness, Tanimola Alao, a Senior Security and Intelligence Officer with the DSS, said his first meeting with the defendant was on October 9, 2016, when his boss directed him to take the statement of the defendant.

“I was directed by my superior to witness his statement writing, I promptly got the statement. Before I did that I read the cautionary words contained in the statement form to him to the effect that he is at liberty not to make a statement as any statement he made could be used against him in the court of law.
“He said he understood and was prepared to make the statement, to this end he signed the statement form. He signed the first page.
“After that he commenced with writing of the statement, after writing, he said he was done,  ‘I endorsed the statement. After my endorsement I drew the attention of my superior who counter signed the statement’”, he said.

Alao said the statement was voluntarily made by the defendant.
The statement was tendered as evidence and marked exhibit 9.
Under cross-examination by Agabi, the witness said he didn’t take part in investigating the defendant but only took his statement, so he wouldn’t know the origin of the money.
Agabi: “Do you know the origin of the money the defendant is charged with? .
“What I know is that I witnessed the writing of the statement as I didn’t take part in investigating him,”  Alao replied.

Agabi asked again: “In the statement, did the defendant say the money was proceeds from unlawful act?
Alao replied, “I did not read the statement I was only to record him.”
“Is your evidence in position to support the charge against the defendant?
“I have just told you what I did because I am on oath to say the truth only and I have just told you the truth,”  Alao said.

Justice John Tsoho, the trial judge, adjourned till May 17 for continuation of trial.
It will be recalled that Justice Ngwuta was among seven senior Judges that were arrested between last October after the DSS raided their homes in what it termed “a sting operation.”