By Ikecukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Trial of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court who is facing corruption charges, resumed before the Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday, with the Department of State Service, DSS, narrating how it discovered bags of foreign and local currencies in the defendants residence.
An operative of the DSS, Mr. Aminu Ndakpoto who testified as a prosecution witness in the matter, told the court that the embattled jurist claimed that the funds which were stashed inside bags, were proceeds of his palm oil and rice business.
He said Ngwuta equally admitted under interrogation that he was into foreign exchange business that involved buying and selling of currencies with “mallams”.
According to the witness, Justice Ngwuta told investigators that grilled him that he usually bought dollars when the rates are low and sold at a higher rate, adding that part of the foreign currencies discovered in his home were accumulated annual medical allowances that were paid to him in foreign currency by the Supreme Court.
Ndakpoto said the defendant told him that since he hardly fell sick, he had no reason to spend the money, hence his decision to channel it into his business.
The witness said the defendant explained that he usually purchased the palm oil and rice from the open market and subsequently sold them at a favourable price.
He said when the defendant was asked to name his partners and customers, as well as where his warehouse was situated, he told the DSS that he did not transact with a particular customer, saying he does not also have a partner or warehouse.
Justice Ngwuta is answering to a 13-count charge that borders on money laundering charge, age falsification, as well as his alleged possession of multiple international passports.
He was docked before the high court on November 21, 2016, and later granted bail to the tune of N100million.
FG told the court that shortly after Ngwuta was granted administrative bail by the DSS, he quickly called the PW-1, one Mr. Linus Nwamba, to help him conceal some of the evidence against him, including N27million he hid in his bathroom at Abakaliki in Ebonyi State.
The prosecution told the court that the defendant equally removed three exotic cars from his residence in his home town.
It told the court that 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.
FG said the properties which it maintained were derived from the proceeds of an unlawful act, were all recovered by investigators on November 11, following Nwamba’s arrest, weeks after the defendant had been released on administrative bail.
FG 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).
As well as Twenty-Five Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifteen Pounds Sterling (GBP 25,915) and Two Hundred and Eighty Euros (EURO 280.00).
It will be recalled that Justice Ngwuta was among eight superior court judges that were arrested after a sting operation the DSS conducted in October, last year.
Meantime, led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Mrs. Olufemi Fatunde, yesterday, Ndakpoto said he was on the team that interrogated Justice Ngwuta on October 9, 2016. He gave the name of his colleague on the team as Mike.
The witness told the court that Justice Ngwuta was in possession of multiple international passports, which he allegedly used interchangeably to travel abroad, especially to Seychelles and the United Arab Emirate, UAE.
Neverthless, the DSS operative said barely 24 hours after the defendant made his first statement and was granted administrative bail, he came back to change his earlier claim about the souce of funds that were recovered in his home.
He said the judge, in his second statement, denied knowledge of the money and insisted that although he owned the bags in which the monies were found, he did not know how the DSS operatives that searched his house came about the money.
The witness said everything the defendant told the DSS in the course of his interrogation were all recorded and could be played at anytime to authenticate his testimony.
He said documents, including those relating to accounts with Zenith Bank and Union Bank, were also recovered from the defendant’s home.
The witness said: “When I asked him which bank account he operates, he said he only banks with union bank.
“On that day, there was no written statement by the defendant that I witnessed, that was on Sunday, October 9, 2016.
“Before he came to our office, there was news everywhere about the arrest of judges and that the defendant travelled to the UAE witj some others to collect bribe to influence the case he was handling.
“When he came back the second day, I went to meet him at the waiting area. When we were coming down to my office, the defendant asked that we did not ask him about the money they said they found in his house.
“My colleague, Mike reminded him that he had explained the previous day that the money were from his accumulated allowance, trades in foreign exchange and farm produce”.
He said at that point, the defendant said he was feeling feverish the day his home was raided and could not follow the operatives that searched and allegedly found the bags of cash.
“He also said that he does not know how they came about the money. We asked him who owns the bags that contain the money, he said the bags were his own but the money inside were not his own”.
The witness said on the third day, October 11, following a request by his team, Justice Ngwuta brought multiple passports, including diplomatic and standard Nigerian international passports.
He said when they asked the judge if he had ever visited the UAE, he denied ever travelling there.
“We then told him that there was prove from entries in his passports that he travelled to UAE.
“It was at that point that he said he needed his lawyer to be present before he could say anything else.
“We put it to him that he presented the passport he claimed was lost to the UAE Immigration Authority, but while leaving Nigeria, he presented a different passport.
“In the passport, his entry into UAE was stamped on October 9, 2015, and his exit was also stamped the same day. But that said passport was the same the defendant saif he lost. The passport was not cancelled.
“We went further and showed him the recent passport he colleceted after he declared the old one lost (Exhibit 13c, which was issued to the defendant on September 17, 2014), On that new one, it showed that the defendant entered Seychelles on the 4th of October 2015 and his exit was on the 8th”, the witness added.
Meantime, trial Justice John Tsoho adjourned further hearing in the matter till January 10.