SENATE President Bukola Saraki has taken another step to stop his ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false and anticipatory asset declaration.
Saraki, whose numerous legal actions, seeking to stall the trial, had been dismissed by the CCT itself and other courts, including the Supreme Court, is through a fresh motion, asking the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, to disqualify himself from the case.
The Senate President, through the fresh motion filed at the CCT on Tuesday, asked Umar to disqualify himself from the trial on the basis that the tribunal chairman was allegedly under criminal investigation by the EFCC.
Saraki is being prosecuted by the Federal Government before the CCT on 13 counts, including keeping a foreign account and making false asset declaration in the forms he submitted to the CCB between 2003 and 2011 when he served as the governor of Kwara State.
The former Kwara State governor alleged in the motion that Umar would likely be biased in the handling of his trial since the EFCC, which was allegedly leading the prosecution of the Senate President before the CCT, was also investigating the tribunal chairman.
The application was filed at the CCT by Mr. Raphael Oluyede, who had not been part of Saraki’s defence team, led by a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), before the CCT.
Oluyede appeared as a member of the defence team for the first time on Wednesday but the fresh application had not been mentioned during the trial.
The lawyer had equally filed the suit seeking to stop Saraki’s trial, but which was dismissed by Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court in Abuja last Friday.
The fresh application had not been served on the prosecution in the case as of Wednesday.
The prayer sought in Saraki’s application is, “An order disqualifying/recusing the Honourable Justice Danladi Umar (Chairman of this tribunal) from sitting on the panel of this tribunal for the hearing and determination of the charges filed in these proceedings for the reason that his continued presence on the said panel:
“‘offends the provisions of section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’.”
But the EFCC, on Wednesday, stated that its investigation of the CCT chairman had been concluded and Umar had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
During the Wednesday proceedings, the first prosecution witness in the trial of Saraki at the CCT in Abuja, Mr. Michael Wetkas, said the EFCC had been investigating Saraki for money laundering.
Wetkas, an EFCC operative, who led the three-man inter-agency team that investigated the allegations leading to the charges preferred against Saraki, said a lot of landed assets, acquired by the Senate President within and outside Nigeria, were discovered while he was being investigated for money laundering.
The witness said this while being cross-examined by a defence lawyer, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), on the allegation that Saraki operated a foreign account with America Express Service, New York, and did transfer funds to it from his personal account with the Guaranty Trust Bank on August 25, 2008.
Wetkas was asked during the proceedings by the defence lawyer to read aloud the allegation that the defendant operated a foreign account while serving as governor as contained in count 11 of the charges preferred against the Senate President.
The prosecution contended that count 11 was contrary to and punishable under the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and the Constitution.
Wetkas led the three-man inter-agency team that investigated the allegations leading to the charges preferred against Saraki.
The witness told the CCT that a lot of landed assets, acquired by the Senate President within and outside Nigeria, some of which he allegedly did not declare to the CCB, were discovered while Saraki was being investigated for money laundering in 2014.
He said the money laundering investigation followed several suspicious lodgements and loan disbursements discovered on the statement of Saraki’s account with GTB Plc.
The witness had, while being led by the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), in his evidence-in-chief, narrated how Saraki allegedly handed huge cash funds to various persons, then at the Kwara State Government House for onward lodgement in his GTB account.
Wetkas restated under cross-examination on Wednesday that the suspicious lodgements into Saraki’s account were made by employees of the bank, aides of the Senate President while he was the governor of Kwara State and other individuals with fictitious names.
He added, “We commenced investigation and we discovered massive lodgements into his personal account with the GTB by bank account managers, other staff of the bank and also his aides while he (Saraki) was Executive Governor and we discovered that most of these individuals were also found to be fictitious.
“We discovered all the massive lodgements in the account together with several loans disbursed to the defendant and then we discovered the proceeds were used to acquire several properties that are subject of trial before this tribunal.
“A substantial part of the money transferred was also transferred into the card account (the foreign account) that he (Usoro) is talking about.”
He explained that his investigative team had not obtained the account opening package for the Senate President’s card account with the America Express Service, New York.
He said, “If you need to get the documents from the foreign bank, it is not easy. You need to go through diplomatic process. But the foreign partners were contacted and the process is still ongoing.”
In response to the defence lawyers’ questions, Wetkas confirmed that his team requested and got the documentary instructions given by Saraki for the foreign transfers, the telexes confirming that the transactions were “consummated” and other documents relating to the Senate President’s GTB personal accounts.
He said, “What I have said was that the series of transaction documents which the bank gave me convinced my team that the account existed.”
He said it was confirmed as shown on the telexes that the funds were transferred to AES, New York, for onward transfer to American Express Europe Service Limited, which he claimed to be an agent of the bank (American Express Service, New York).
He said, “All the requests made by the investigative team were an offshoot of information of debit transactions that were already consummated on that particular account, which showed that they carried out the instructions of the defendants.
“The bank was also invited and they confirmed that the transfer was consummated.
“I do not believe that any person will throw his money to a non-existing organisaton.”
On the unavailability of the telex of August 28, 2008, he said, “The bank also gave us a police affidavit to show that some of the documents were burnt.
“If this particular telex is not there, it might be one of the telexes they could not provide but the transfer was effected.”