The trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki for alleged concealment of assets finally got under way yesterday in Abuja with the embattled senator expressing happiness that he now has an opportunity to clear his name.
The Senate President’s confidence probably arose from the first prosecution witness, Michael Wetkas’ testimony that Saraki’s naira account with one of the banks, which his team analysed, had an in-flow of about N4 billion, saying the major source of inflow into the account was a loan taken from Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB)within the period of 2005 and 2013.
Saraki is facing a 13-count charge of false declaration of assets while he held sway as the governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2007.
Yesterday’s trial proceeded with a three-hour battle by Saraki’s lawyers, who sought an adjournment of the case to enable them dispose of their client’s appeal, challenging the jurisdiction of the Danladi Umar-led Code of Conduct Tribunal at the Court of Appeal.
Justice Umar, however, dismissed the application for adjournment on the ground that the Supreme Court had already rested the issue of jurisdiction.
“The motion for adjournment based on an appeal challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal at the Court of Appeal is not necessary,” the judge ruled and ordered the prosecution to open its case.
Paul Usoro (SAN), who represented Saraki’s lead counsel, Mr Kanu Agabi (SAN), had requested an adjournment on the strength of a notice of stay of proceedings filed at the tribunal.
He argued that the defendant was challenging at the Court of Appeal, the tribunal’s March 24 ruling, which ordered the continuation of the trial.
He, therefore, prevailed on the tribunal to adjourn the matter until the hearing and determination of the application at the Court of Appeal, saying he was not asking for ‘’a stay of proceedings, but for an adjournment of the matter.”
But the prosecution lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), replied that both terms, stay of proceeding and adjournment, were the same thing.
According to him, after the defendant filed a notice of appeal, he also filed a record of appeal at the Court of Appeal, which was supposed to be confirmed by the tribunal and then forwarded to the Court of Appeal, arguing: “It is only when the tribunal fails to compile the record that the appellant is obliged to do it himself.”
Jacob added that the Supreme Court had already given the tribunal a clean bill to proceed with the trial, saying it would amount to judicial rascality to disregard the order of the highest court in the land.
The prosecuting lawyer further argued, “The application for adjournment is predicated on false and void grounds; I urge your lordship to refuse this application for adjournment because it is becoming too much.”
The tribunal later took a recess at 12:45 pm and upon resuming at exactly 1: 35 pm, rejected Saraki’s application as lacking in merit and asked the prosecution to open its case.
As the prosecution’s first witness, Wetkas, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) detective, who headed the investigation of the Saraki case, mounted the witness box, the Senate President’s lead counsel, Agabi, walked into the tribunal but asked Usoro to go ahead with the case.
Wetkas testified that Saraki’s naira account with one of the banks, which his team analysed, had an in-flow of about N4 billion, saying the major source of inflow into the account was a loan secured from Guaranty Trust Bank within the period of 2005 and 2013.
He gave an elaborate account of how Saraki allegedly used made-up names to launder billions of dollars. The EFCC detective gave an account of how one Abdul Adama, one of Saraki’s personal assistants, allegedly made 50 transactions on the account in a single day, broken down to N600,000 and N900,000 each.
According to him, “When the defendant was governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011, the commission received several petitions from various groups. One of the petitioners was the Kwara Freedom Network. They brought several petitions all bordering on abuse of office, misappropriation of public fund and money laundering by the defendant.
“Sometime in 2014, the then executive chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, received intelligence reports of suspicious transactions involving the defendant. He set up a team of investigators. Our task was to investigate the intelligence reports”.
He said further: “The investigation report was reviewed by my team. In the course of our investigation, we discovered that there were several companies, which were linked to the defendant. Some of them include Carlisle Properties Investment Ltd, Skyview Properties Ltd, LimKvars Ltd, and TIly-lie Ltd.”
The witness claimed some of the companies maintained accounts with some commercial banks. He further claimed that from the investigation, it was discovered that the defendant maintained three accounts, saying: “The first account is a naira currency account, the second is a US dollar account and the third is a pound sterling account.”
The witness further testified that the naira account was analysed and it was discovered that between 2005 and 2013, the account had an in-flow of about N4 billion, saying the major source of inflow into the accounts were loans taken from GTB within the period.
He said the loans were about N2.5 billion, and the other sources of inflows into the account were lodgements by individuals.
Even though the witness could not give a clear link between Saraki and the properties, he said that the investigations carried out by EFCC, the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), which indicted the defendant, were based on properties located at 17A and 17B McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos; No 2A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos; No 37 Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos and No 1 Gagus, Maitiama, Abuja, which he claimed were owned by Saraki but were not declared while he was in office as executive governor of Kwara State.
The tribunal admitted the asset declaration forms as exhibits. Saraki’s lawyer, Usoro, however, said he was ‘’reserving his objection for now” over the forms.
The case was adjourned till 10 am this morning (Wednesday) for the first witness to continue with his evidence against Saraki.
Decked in white flowing Babariga, Saraki who arrived at the CCT yesterday with about 38 senators, said in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Yusuph Olaniyonu, that he was happy that the trial would offer him the opportunity to clear his name.
The Senate President said yesterday’s proceedings gave him confidence that if the trial was conducted fairly, he would be vindicated.
“Even though the prosecution tried to bring in some dramatic narratives, it was clear that they were merely thrashing around and hoping to titillate the public with salacious tales”, he said, emphasising that he was hopeful, however, that when the time comes, his lawyers would have the opportunity to present his case.