The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has struck out 15 of the 18 counts of false assets declaration leveled against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, on the grounds that the prosecution was unable to prove the charges against the Senate President.
Newsworth recalls that the CCT had on June 14 acquitted Saraki of the 18 charges of false asset declaration and other related offences preferred against him.
Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar, had ruled that with its four witnesses and 48 documentary exhibits tendered, the prosecution failed to establish a strong case against Saraki.
But the Nigerian government through the Attorney-General of the Federation rejected this ruling and proceeded to file an appeal.
In a unanimous ruling delivered on Tuesday, the three-man panel of the appellate court led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson referred Saraki back to the tribunal to enter his defence on three charges, for which he had been discharged and acquitted by the CCT.
The appellate court, in a 70-page judgment, ordered the Senate president to stand trial on counts 4, 5 and 6, which concerned the purchase of No. 17A and B MacDonald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos worth N260 million.
The court averred that the prosecution was able to establish a prima facie case against Saraki in respect to the three-count charge. It said there were false claims by Saraki in the declaration forms stating how the two houses in Ikoyi were acquired.
Justice Akomolafe-Wilson held that while Saraki claimed in his assets declaration forms that he acquired the properties with proceeds from the sale of rice and sugar, the prosecution was able to establish that he actually acquired them with loans he obtained from the bank.
In Count 4, which was sustained by the Court of Appeal, Saraki was accused of making false assets declaration at the end of his tenure as Governor of Kwara State in 2011 and on assumption of office as Senator in 2011 in respect of a property at 17A McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos.
The prosecution contended that the defendant falsely declared to have acquired the property at 17A McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos on September 6, 2006 from the proceeds of sale of rice and sugar.
In Count 5, the prosecution accused Saraki of making false asset declaration at the end of his tenure as Governor of Kwara State in 2011 and on assumption of office as a Senator in 2011 when he declared that he acquired No. 17B McDonald, Ikoyi Lagos on September 6, 2006 from proceeds of sale of rice and sugar.
In Count 6, the prosecution also accused Saraki of making a false declaration in his Assets Declaration Form at the end of tenure as Governor of Kwara in 2007 and on assumption of office as Governor in 2007 by failing to declare his outstanding loan liabilities of N315,054,355.92 out of the loan of N380,000,000 obtained from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
Justice Akomolafe-Wilson pointed out that there was “direct evidence” from the testimony of first, second and fourth prosecution witness supporting the three counts.
The court however dismissed counts 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 on the grounds that the prosecution failed to link him with the alleged offences as the evidence alluded to in those charges by some of the prosecution witnesses were hearsay and therefore not admissible in law. The court in a unanimous judgment held that there was no evidence to prove the 15 counts as valid charges.
It held that the prosecution was able to establish a prima facie case against Saraki on counts 4, 5 and 6 bordering on the purchase of house 17 A and B at Mc Donald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, valued at N260 million.
“And it is hereby ordered that counts 4,5 and 6 be remitted to the code of conduct tribunal,” Justice Akomolafe-Wilson ruled.
Reacting to the judgement, the defence lawyer, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN said it would be swiftly studied, adding that the Supreme Court would be approached to adjudicate and reverse the Court of Appeal’s decision on the three charges.
Usoro’s statement was reaffirmed by another one issued by Saraki’s media aide, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, who said his principal’s lawyers would review the grounds of the decision on the three charges and take appropriate action, but maintained that the verdict on the 15 charges had vindicated Saraki.
On its part, the federal government through its lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs SAN pointed out that his team would study the judgment and decide on the next line of action.