Saraki faces fresh charges before conduct tribunal

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The Federal Government has amended the charges of false asset declaration preferred against Senate President Bukola Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja.

With the amended charges, which were filed on Monday, Saraki will be facing two fresh counts in addition to the 13 originally preferred against him.

The original 13 counts comprise false asset declaration and maintaining of offshore account while serving as Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.

The additional charges include allegation that Saraki continued to receive salaries and emoluments as governor of Kwara State after the expiration of his tenure and at the same time, and from the Federal Government, as a Senator between June 2011 and October 2013.

The offence is said to be contrary to Section 6(a) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. CAP. C15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and as incorporated under paragraph 2(a), Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.

It is said to be punishable under Section 23(2) of the code of conduct bureau and tribunal act as incorporated under paragraph 18, Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.

The other additional charge is that Saraki failed to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau on assumption of office as Governor of Kwara State in 2003, his leasehold interest in the property at 42 Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja, Lagos.

He was said to have acquired the property in December 12,1996, through his company, Sky View Properties Limited which the firm purchased from First Finance Trust Limited.

Earlier at the tribunal on Thursday, a heated argument between the CCT chairman, Dandali Usman, and a new lawyer in the Senate President’s legal team, Mr. Raphael Oluyede, had threatened to disrupt the proceedings of the day.

The turmoil, which was characterised by a hot verbal exchange between the tribunal chairman and Oluyede, started when the lawyer was introducing a motion in which he asked the judge to disqualify himself from further presiding over the trial.

The situation degenerated to the level when the judge threatened Oluyede with imprisonment and ordered police to take him away from the courtroom.

The lawyer, in response, accused the judge of being biased in his handling of the trial due to the “cloudy relationships” between him and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

There was confusion in the courtroom while the situation lasted as lawyers, including the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), pleaded with the tribunal chairman to be calm, while on the other hand, counsel in the defence team asked Oluyede to cease fire.

At the commencement of the proceedings on Thursday, after lawyers had announced appearances, Jacobs informed the tribunal that the business of the day was further cross-examination of the first prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas.

Mr. Adebayo Adelodun (SAN), the lawyer, who initially led the defence in the absence of the leader of the team, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), obtained the tribunal’s permission to allow Oluyede to make some comments about the motion.

The application filed by Oluyede asked Umar to disqualify himself from further handling the trial on the basis that he (Umar) was allegedly under criminal investigation by the EFCC.

Oluyede also argued in the motion that Umar would likely be biased in conducting the trial because the EFCC was allegedly leading the prosecution of Saraki before the CCT.

He is the lawyer, whose suit, seeking to stop the trial before the CCT, was dismissed by Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court in Abuja last Friday.

The lawyer was introducing the motion when Jacobs interrupted by saying the business of the day was not for hearing of any motion but for further cross-examination of the prosecution witness.

He said he had declined to accept service of the motion because Oluyede was still a stranger in the case as of the time he filed it on Wednesday.

Jacobs added that he decided not to accept the service because Agabi had confirmed to him that he was not aware of the motion and that he did not authorise its filing.

He said, “The business of the day is for cross-examination. Yesterday (Wednesday) he (Oluyede) attempted to serve me a copy of this motion and I declined.

“As of the time he filed this motion yesterday, he had never appeared in this case. He appeared for the first time yesterday. He filed the motion on his own right as a lawyer.

“So, I said I would not accept the motion based on Section 349 (7) and (8) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.”

According to Jacobs, by virtue of the law, a new lawyer can only appear in a criminal case after the former one, seeking to quit, has given notice to the court at least three days before the next hearing date.

Umar, who was at that point visibly angry, passed the EFCC letter exonerating him of the alleged N10m bribery scam, which was the basis for the fresh motion, to Jacobs.

Describing the motion as rubbish, Umar faulted Adelodun’s decision to yield the floor to Oluyede to speak on the motion.

He said, “How can you allow such rubbish thing to happen when you know that he (Oluyede) filed it as his own right and not with the approval of the lead counsel?

“A motion filed by a mere busybody is not accepted by this tribunal.

“As far as this tribunal is concerned, that motion has not been filed and it is thrown away.”

But in his response, Adelodun insisted that it was within the right of the defence to yield the floor to any member of its team.

He added that it was elementary in law that lawyers had the right to file any motion no matter how frivolous and the judge was duty-bound to rule on it.

Attempts by Oluyede to speak again were refused by Umar, who repeatedly asked the lawyer to “sit down”.

Oluyede, however, thundered back, “I will not be browbeaten not to speak. There are too many cloudy relationships between you and the EFCC and that is why you have been biased in this case and that is why we are asking you to disqualify yourself.”

The judge, who became angrier, threatened to send Oluyede to prison.

“I will commit you to prison for committing contempt. This is a contempt committed in the face of the court.

“Where are the police? They should come and take this man away,” the judge said.

Oluyede flared back,  “You will commit me to prison for doing my job?”

About five policemen approached Oluyede, but instead of arresting the lawyer, they tried to calm down the counsel, who had, by then, resumed his seat.

With peace restored in the courtroom, Jacobs urged the tribunal chairman to be patient, as he reiterated that the EFCC had since March, 2015, cleared him (Umar) of the allegations referred to in the motion while the charges against Saraki were only filed before the CCT in September, 2015.

Jacobs added, “My lord, be patient as you have always been. The application is based on a false premise. The EFCC has cleared you since March 2015. This charge was only filed in September 2015.

“We will handle the application as we effectively did at the Federal High Court. We will expose the frivolity of the application even to the person who filed it.”

A defence counsel, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), who later took over as the leader of the team, walked in as peace was restored in the courtroom.

Without making any reference to the drama that took place before his arrival, Usoro simply informed the tribunal that the defence was ready to continue the cross-examination of the first prosecution witness.

However, in the middle of the cross-examination of the witness by Usoro, Agabi walked in and apologised for what had transpired in his absence.

He confirmed that Oluyede was a member of the defence team and urged the tribunal chairman “to accommodate” him.

Agabi added, “More and more people are coming to make you angry. Are you going to commit all of them to prison?”

Umar said if not for the intervention of the other counsel, Oluyede would have been imprisoned.

The judge said, “The motion was filed for mischievous reasons.

“If not for the intervention of the other counsel, he should have been cooling his feet in prison. We have a cell here and he could be transferred elsewhere later.”

Our correspondent learnt on Thursday,  shortly after Saraki’s ongoing trial before the CCT was adjourned till April 27 for further cross-examination of the first prosecution witness, that the Federal Government might further amend the charges before they will be read to the accused person.

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