Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday alleged that his assets’ declaration form submitted in 2003 when he was the Governor of Kwara State had been tampered with.
He claimed that the refusal of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to interface with him on the form was because they knew he would challenge them on insertions made on the form.
The counsel to Saraki, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN) made the allegation at the resumed trial of the Senate president on the falsification of assets’ charge.
However, the EFCC witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas, who was being cross-examined by Saraki’s counsel denied the allegation, saying the form was filled in and signed by Saraki before a competent judge.
When the witness was asked if he was aware that the assets declaration form submitted by the defendant in 2003 was tampered with since it contained some entries of properties that were not put on sale by the Federal Government until 2006, Wetkas said: “As far as I am concerned, exhibit one was signed by the defendant himself on September 16, 2003.’ ’
And when asked if he inserted the property at No. 15a and B, MacDonald Street, Ikoyi, he said ‘no’. And when asked if he knew who did it, the witness said: “The Code of Conduct Bureau is a responsible organisation and I will not believe it would have done that.’’
When asked why he did not confront the Senate president with it, his answer was that he did not have any interaction with him but the document was one he could believe because it was signed before a competent judge.
According to him, the content was the position of the defendant which he swore to before a judge and as such, whether he met with him or not could not have affected his belief in the content since Saraki swore before a competent judge .
He, however, argued that members of the other teams would be in a better position to speak as they had interaction with the Senate president .
He went further to name Imam Usman and Musa Sunday as some of the investigators that met with Saraki.
Earlier in the day, the tribunal dismissed a request by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), asking it to restrain Saraki to the engagement of a particular counsel for cross-examination of witness. This was considered the first ruling given by the tribunal in favour of Saraki since the beginning of the trial.
Saraki, who is facing a 16-count charge of false declaration of assets, had asked the tribunal, through his lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), to allow a different counsel, Paul Erokoro, to go ahead with the cross- examination of the witness, who was previously examined by another member of Saraki’s defence team, Paul Usoro (SAN).
Jacobs, however, objected to the application by Agabi and asked the tribunal to ensure that Saraki’s lead counsel was the only one to cross-examine Wetkas.
Jacobs cited Section 349 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, to support his point that only the lead counsel should cross-examine the witness.
But a member of the bench, William Atedze, told Jacobs that the section he alluded to did not require the use of only the lead counsel for cross-examination.
Erokoro on his part reminded his colleague that the law allowed Saraki to have as many representatives as he would like to, and that the defence had not acted outside the provisions of the law.
In his ruling, the tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar, noted that the tribunal would act in line with the provisions of the law.
He added that while the defence counsel should not abandon the case at any point, the defendant had the right to be represented by as many counsel as possible.
Saraki had told the tribunal that he had no reason to steal or embezzle public funds, having over N4 billion before becoming the governor of Kwara State in 2003.
He further argued that all the evidence of money laundering adduced by the Federal Government against him was totally irrelevant as he was already a wealthy person before becoming the Kwara State governor.
To drive home this point, the Senate president through one of his counsel referred the tribunal to his assets’ declaration forms submitted to the CCB in September 2003.
The document, which was read out at the tribunal by the prosecution witness, revealed that Saraki had 13 exotic cars valued at N263.400 million before he became governor of Kwara State.
They include Mercedes G.500 bullet proof car valued at N45 million, Mercedes S500 worth N30 million, Lexus SUV bullet proof worth N30 million, Mercedes S320 valued at N16 million; Mercedes S500 valued at N20 million, Mercedes G500 at the cost of N6 million, Mercedes V.220 at N2 million, Rally 456GT at the value of N25 million as well as Navigator valued at N15 million.
Others are Mercedes MM240 valued at N8.5 million, Peugeot 406 at N2.9 million, Mercedes CLK320 valued at N9 million and Mercedes E320 valued at N11 million.
The value of the Senate president in physical cash as at September 16, 2003 was also put at $22 million, £12 million, 2.6 Euros and N4 billion.
Document also showed that Saraki was worth N2 billion in landed properties.
The matter continues today.
Meanwhile, a retired Customs Comptroller, Mr. Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, standing trial on false assets’ declaration charges has asked Umar to disqualify himself from the tribunal panel that will try him. His reason was because of Umar’s involvement in a pending N10 million bribery allegation.
The customs-ex chief claimed that Umar in 2012 once demanded a bribe of N10 million from him to pervert the course of justice in a criminal matter filed against him by the Federal Government.
In a motion on notice filed by his counsel, Mr. Festus Keyamo, the applicant claimed that he reported Umar to the EFCC, prompting his arrest and interrogation on the alleged bribery request.
Owolabi claimed that he would never get fair trial and justice from the CCT boss, having implicated him in the bribery saga, which led to the ongoing trial of his personal assistant, Ali Gambo Abdullahi, for criminal offence at an Abuja High Court.
Owolabi further alleged that the CCT boss had become biased against him for taking him to the anti-graft agency on his demand for N10 million bribe and the part-payment of N1.8 million, hence he could not get justice before his tribunal as required by law.
Owolabi is billed to appear before the tribunal today on the false declaration of assets’ charge slammed on him since June 6, 2012 and he is praying that the charge be struck out for want of diligent prosecution and for the likelihood of bias against him.
The motion was predicated on five issues among which was that during the pendency of his trial, he made several allegations of graft against the CCT chairman, which led to the trial of his PA in respect of the allegation.
Owolabi therefore maintained that it had become legally impossible for the CCT chairman to adjudicate over the matter because of a real likelihood of bias against him (Owolabi).
In a three-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion, the applicant claimed that in the course of his trial, he had reasons to raise allegations of graft against the CCT boss.
He added that in the course of investigation by EFCC, Mr. Ali Gambo Abdullahi, the PA to the CCT boss admitted in his statement that he collected certain sums of money from the applicant as inducement and that he handed over the money to the CCT chairman.
The deponent claimed that based on the EFCC findings, a coalition of civil rights groups under the auspices of the Registered Trustees of the Mission for Peace and Development Initiative filed a court action at the Federal High Court seeking an order of mandamus from the court to compel the Attorney General of the Federation to file a criminal indictment against the CCT boss.
The applicant therefore asked Umar to disqualify himself from the CCT panel billed to try him on the ground that he would not get fair trial and justice from Umar.