•Witness insists Senate President made false asset declaration
The Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar, said yesterday that the tribunal and its members were subjected to “serious influence” during the trial of a former Lagos State Governor and national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Umar said, unlike what obtained during the Tinubu trial, the tribunal was not under any external influence or interference in its handling of the trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
“I want to say that in the case of Bola Tinubu, we were under serious influence, but we did what we had to do and discharged him. So we must be fair to ourselves not to delay this trial.
“The insinuation that we are being influenced in this case is not true. We are all answerable to Allah, when we breathe our last,” Umar said.
Tinubu was taken before the tribunal in 2011 for allegedly operating foreign accounts while serving as governor between 1999 and 2007. The charge was struck out, following which he was discharged.
Umar said he was guided by his conscience, the urge to do justice and the belief that everyone is answerable to Allah (GOD) when he dies.
The CCT Chairman spoke at the resumption of Saraki’s trial yesterday. He was reacting to insinuation in the media that the tribunal was being influenced to give a guilty verdict against Saraki.
The second member of the tribunal, William Agwadza Atedze, frowned at attempts to tarnish the reputation of the tribunal’s members through sponsored media publications.
“At the weekend, there was an article in the paper about me. It was titled: ‘CCT and the bird of the same feather.’ The author is taking on the wrong person, I do not keep quiet.
“The insinuation that we have been compromised is not true. Adebayo Adelodun and Yusuf Ali (two senior lawyers in Saraki’s legal team) were my classmates at ABU (Ahmadu Bello University). I am very outspoken and I have not changed.
“When they say one member of the bench is not contributing enough, do you want us to be fighting on the Bench or disagreeing in the open? The Bench is not a motor park. When we do not agree on any issue we resolve it in the office.
“This is not about the headship of Senate. This is not about an individual. It is about the country. This country is on its knees. Today, we cannot buy common tomatoes in the market. This is about the country. It is not about an individual. This case is a watershed, no matter which way it goes at the end of the day,” Atedze said.
Responding, leader of Saraki’s legal team Kanu Agabi (SAN) admitted that the defence had before yesterday expressed fear about the proceedings. He said they were now assured that justice would be done since the tribunal Chairman has placed the proceedings before God.
Agabi said: “There is nothing lawyers fear most than prejudice. We are glad that you have declared that you fear God and committed this proceedings to God.
“Prejudice ought not to have a place in the law court, but today it is. Because you have called the name of God, may God guide you. I pray for you everyday that God should protect you. You are a young man, handling a critical issue in our nation’s life,” Agabi said.
Lead prosecution lawyer Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) urged the tribunal members to ignore the impression being created about them in the media and not be bothered by it.
“It is not only this tribunal and its members that they are writing about. They have also written all sorts of things about us. It is what we are subjected to everyday,” Jacobs said.
He said Agabi’s claim that they fear prejudice was uncalled for. He said: “All the rulings of this tribunal have been upheld by the appellate courts. So, where is the claim of prejudice?
“We have nothing to hide. We cannot tell lies against anybody. I cannot ask my witness to tell lies. We mention more of God in this country but we do less of God. That is our problem,” Jacobs said.
Later, under cross-examination by Saraki’s lawyer, Paul Usoro (SAN) first prosecution witness, Michael Wetkas insisted yesterday that investigation revealed that the Senate President made false declarations in the asset declaration forms he submitted while in office as Kwara State governor.
Wetkas, who insisted that Saraki made anticipatory declaration in 2003 in respect of the property he acquired on 15, McDonald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, said the property was only sold by the government in 2006.
He said the property declared by Saraýki as 15A and B, McDonald Road , Ikoyi, Lagos, on assuming office as Kwara State Governor in 2003 was the same as 15, McDonald Road Ikoyi, Lagos.
The witness added that the Presidential Implementation Committee on the Sale of Federal Government’s Properties confirmed that15, McDonald Road, Ikoyi, was sold to Saraki’s company, TinyTee Limited.
He noted that Saraki had, in the form he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) on assumption of office in 2003, claimed that he acquired 15A and B, Mcdonald Ikoyi, ýLagos, through Carslise Properties Limited.
“I have always said it in my evidence about 15, McDonald Road, Ikoyi. We maintain our position that that property was one and the same property that the implementation committee wrote to us about. The implementation committee did not tell us that there existed15 A and B separately.
“The Managing Director of Carlisle Property, Sule Izuagbe, also talked about 15 McDonald as the property belonging to the defendant (Saraki) and the defendant in the asset declaration which he made in 2011 and 2015, declared the property as 15, McDonald Road, Ikoyi; he no longer said 15A and B.
“That is why we maintained the same position that it is the same property. The nomenclature is just as the convenience of the defendant,” the witness said.
He confirmed that the Certificate of Occupancy for 15, McDonald Road, Ikoyi, was issued in the name of TinyTee Limited and not in Saraki’s name.
Wetkas also confirmed that the Certificate of Occupancy with November 26, 2006 as its commencement date was issued by the ýthen Minister of Housing and Urban Development ýand not the implementation committee.
He said, in the course of investigation, he did not come across any document signed by Saraki in relation to the Ikoyi property.
On how he concluded that the property belonged to Saraki, Wekas said his conclusion was informed by his finding that the property on 15 McDonald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, was paid for by Saraki through the bank accounts of two other companies which Saraki had declared his interest in.
He also said the Managing Director of two of Saraki’s companies – Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited and ýSky View Properties – Mr. Sule Izuagbe, confirmed that the payment for the property was made on the instruction given by the Senate President.
“We believe that the property was bought for the defendant. The property was paid for through the account of Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited and Skyview Properties. Skyview and Carlisle belong to the defendant and he declared them as his companies.
“The sum of N125million was taken from Skyview’s account with Access Bank out of which N123.73million amounting to 75 per cent of the price of the property was paid for the property.ý”
He said ý N125million was a loan obtained by Saraki through the account of Skyview’s account with Access Bank.
Wetkas added that the offer letter for the loan was signed for on behalf of Skyview by Saraki’s wife, Toyin.
“The Managing Director of Carlisle and Skybiew, Izuagbe, said the payment for the property was directed by the defendant.
“Izuagbe listed the property (15, McDonald Road, Ikoyi) as part of the properties he was managing on behalf of the defendant.
“The defendant also declared the property in his asset declaration forms of 2011 and 2015.That was the basis for our conclusion that the property belonged to the defendant,” the witness said.
In an effort to distinguish Saraki from the companies, Usoro argued that it was wrong for Wetkas to conclude that the property acquired by companies in which Saraki had interests could be considered his personal property.
He stated that Carlisle and Skyview were both limited liability companies and possess separate personalities from that of the shareholder.
Jacobs interjected and argued that: “The defendant was asked to declare in the asset form the assets he acquired, including the ones he got through nominees. He himself declared the property as his. The issue of legal personality does not arise in view of the asset declaration regime in Nigeria. They don’t go to any issue.ý”
Also, Usoro faulted the prosecution’s claim in count 11 of the charge, in which Saraki was accused of failing to declare his liability of N375million loan he obtained from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc in January 2010.
Usoro said the Senate President was not bound to declare the N375 million as his liability because as of the time he made his end of tenure asset declaration as governor on June 3, 2011 was about N36million.
Answering question from Usoro, Wekas said while it was true that that the debit balance on the account was N36million as of May 31, 2011, Saraki failed to declare the property he allegedly acquired in London with the loan.
“There are two issues. The issue of the loan and the issue of property he used the loan to buy in London.
“Our position is that we are aware that the outstanding balance was not N375million but N36,042,202.04 as at that date.
“But if that loan was taken for something else apart from property, we would not have made an issue out of it.
“But it was taken to buy a property. Our position is that, that property should have been declared in this asset declaration form of 2011. “And if it was declared in the asset declaration form, the source of how the property was acquired would have been declared that the money was sourced through loan,” Wetkas said.
Hearing resumes today.