The Federal Government alleged on Monday that a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, on October 9, 2016, tampered with evidence likely to incriminate him while on bail – following his arrest by the operatives of the Department of State Service on corruption allegations between October 7 and 8.
The Federal Government, in opposing the bail application which Ngwuta’s lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), argued after his client’s arraignment before the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday, stated that the evidence the accused allegedly tampered with were a cash sum of N27m and three exotic cars.
The prosecution alleged that after Ngwuta was granted administrative bail by the DSS in Abuja on November 9, 2016, he made a call to someone in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, to move the sum of N27m cash and three exotic cars to some other locations in order to conceal them.
The cars, which were said to have been recovered by the DSS from where they were moved to, were a Hummer Jeep, a Wrangler Jeep, and a BMW 5 Series sedan.
The government, however, stated that the N27m cash along with some vital documents moved in bags from the bathroom of the Abakaliki home of the justice of the apex court was not recovered because it had been “dissipated”.
Ngwuta, who appeared before a Federal High Court in Abuja, sporting a grey suit with a blue shirt and a red tie, was arraigned before Justice John Tsoho on 16 counts, including money laundering and offences relating to obtaining of multiple passports.
The justice of the apex court was allowed to sit in the dock.
But he stood up to plead not guilty when the charges were read to him at about 10.41am on Monday.
Following his arraignment, his lawyer moved his bail application which was opposed by Federal Government’s lawyer, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Philips.
Despite the prosecution’s opposition to the bail, the judge returned from about two-hour break to grant bail to the Justice of the Supreme Court in the sum of N100m to be guaranteed by his own recognisance.
The defendant, who only had to sign a bail bond worth N100m and guaranteed by his status as a Justice of the Supreme Court, was seen being driven out of the court premises in his official Mercedes Benz E350 at about 3.30pm on Monday.
The judge, after dismissing the fear expressed by the prosecution about the possibility of the defendant interfering with evidence and evading trial as baseless, fixed December 7 and 8 for commencement of trial.
However, while opposing the bail application earlier, Adeogun-Philips referred to the counter-affidavit which was filed on Monday narrating how Ngwuta allegedly committed more offences by trying to conceal the origin of the N27m and the exotic cars by instructing Chukwuebuka to move them from his Abakaliki house to other locations.
The counter-affidavit deposed to by Mr. Ganau Wando, an official of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation, read in part, “That whilst on administrative bail between October 9 and 21, 2016, the defendant/applicant committed further offences.
“That, in particular, following his arrest on October 7, 2016, and subsequent release on administrative bail on October 9, 2016, the defendant/applicant sought to obstruct the proper administration of justice, having tampered with the evidence likely to incriminate him in criminal acts by engaging one Mr. Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka through a telephone call on October 10, 2016, to remove the properties from his private residence located at Engineering Close, Off Onwe Road, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. The properties are as follows:
“A bag located in the defendant/applicant’s bathroom containing some vital documents which was initially concealed by Mr. Chukwuebuka at the residence of one Abraham Ezeani in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, on or about October 9, 2016, and subsequently recovered from there by investigators from the DSS in November 2016.
“A bag located in the defendant/applicant’s bathroom containing the sum of N27m in cash which was initially concealed by Mr. Chukwuebuka at the residence of one Abraham Ezeani in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, on or about October 9, 2016, following which it was subsequently dissipated by Mr. Chukwuebuka on the direct instructions of the defendant/applicant.”
The counter-affidavit added that the Hummer Jeep Sports Utility Vehicle, Wrangler Jeep Sports Utility Vehicle and BMW 5 Series Vehicle were “previously located in the compound of the defendant/applicant’s private home in Abakaliki and initially concealed by Mr. Chukwuebuka at the residence of an aunt to Chukwuebuka in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, on or about October 9, 2016, and subsequently recovered from there by investigators from the DSS in November 2016.
The prosecuting counsel, while arguing the government’s objection, said the prosecution “regrettably” had to oppose the defendant’s bail application because of his (Ngwuta’s) acts of dishonesty which he had demonstrated by also obtaining multiple valid passports.
“There must be consequences for wrongful conduct. So many times, things have been done in our society with disregard to consequences,” the prosecutor said.
He added, “In counts 10 to 16 of the charges, the defendant is alleged to have maintained multiple identities.
“My lord, in any jurisdiction in the world, I cannot but reject him being released on his own recognisance or being released at all.
“On October 8, a day before the call was made to Abakaliki, the defendant was found with four valid passports. Two of those passports were diplomatic passports and two were standard. He didn’t stop there, investigation showed that earlier this year the defendant had declared two of those passports lost.
“Now we have this problem–we are confronted with such acts of dishonesty. We are confronted with offences that were committed while still on administrative bail.
“The objection is an outright objection. But I have also realistically identified that if your lordship is minded to grant bail, it should be on stringent conditions.
Replying on the point of law, Agabi, however, said the prosecuting counsel was merely repeating the content of the charges and urged the trial judge not to reach conclusions before trial commenced.