Supreme Court Justice, Ngwuta ‘Hid N27m Cash, Luxury Vehicles’
Supreme Court Justice Sylvester Ngwuta was docked yesterday, charged with money laundering. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Justice Ngwuta tried to destroy evidence linking him to the offence, a Federal High Court, Abuja was told.
Lead prosecution lawyer Charles Adeogun-Phillips gave details of how Justice Ngwuta allegedly gave directives that some of the assets hidden in his private residence in his home community of Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, be dissipated.
Adeogun-Phillips said shortly after Justice Ngwuta was granted bail by the Department of State Services (DSS) on October 9, he called one of his aides to remove from his house bags containing N27million cash and documents earlier hidden in the judge’s bathroom in his residence at Engineering Close, off Onwe Road, Abakaliki.
The prosecution lawyer told the court that Justice Ngwuta also allegedly gave instructions that three luxury cars secured in his Abakaliki residence be taken away and hidden somewhere else.
He said although investigators retrieved the vehicles and some other items, from where they were hidden, it was impossible to recover the N27million cash, which had been dissipated, allegedly on the instruction of the judge.
Adeogun-Phillips, arguing the prosecution’s counter-affidavit to the defendant’s bail application, identified the luxury vehicles as “one Hummer Jeep Sports Utility Vehicle, one Wrangler Jeep Sports Utility Vehicle and one BMW 5 Series Sedan Vehicle”.
He said while the Hummer and Wrangler SUVs were recovered from the home of an aunt to Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, a building contractor allegedly engaged by the judge, the BMW car was recovered from “Clevero Hotel in Abakaliki”.
He added: “Following his arrest on the 7th day of October 2016 and subsequent release on administrative bail on the 9th of October 2016, the defendant/applicant sought to obstruct the proper administration of justice, having tampered with evidence likely to incriminate him in criminal acts by engaging a Mr. Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, through a telephone call on the 10th day of October 2016, to remove the properties from his private residence located at Engineering Close, off Onwe Road, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.
“The properties, which were derived from the proceeds of an unlawful act, were all subsequently recovered by investigators on 11 November 2016 following the arrest of Mr. Nwamba Linus Chukwuma several weeks after the defendat/applicant had been released on administrative bail.
“At the time he ordered that the properties be removed from his private residence located at Engineering Close, off Onwe Road, Abakaliki, the defendant/applicant was fully aware that he was a subject of an ongoing investigation for corrupt enrichment and or money laundering by the DSS.
“The actions of the defendant/applicant on 10 October 2016 was deliberate and designed to obstruct and/or interfere with the ongoing investigation by the DSS,” Adeogun-Phillips said.
He also accused the judge of maintaining multiple identities by possessing two standard Nigerian passports and two diplomatic passports, bearing different ages.
The prosecution said investigation by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) revealed that the judge had claimed to have misplaced two of the passports when, in fact, he used the four passports simultaneously.
Adeogun-Phillips, who spoke in opposition to the bail application by Justice Ngwuta’s lawyer, Kanu Agabi (SAN), noted that, with his multiple identities, huge funds and the possibility of his further tampering with evidence and witnesses, it was unwise to allow the defendant on bail.
Agabi argued his client’s bail application shortly after Justice Ngwuta pleaded not guilty to each of the 16 counts contained in the charge brought against him by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
Agabi argued that although the charges against his client were grievious, they were bailable. He added that the decision to grant or refuse bail was within the discretion of the court.
Agabi argued that under the Administration of Criminal Act (ACJA) it was not for the defendant to prove that he/she deserves bail, it was for the prosecution to convince the court as to why bail should be denied the defendants.
He urged the court to grant his client bail on self-recognition on lenient terms in view of his status as a Justice of the Supreme Court.
After taking arguments from parties, Justice John Tsoho rose for about one hour.
Upon the resumption of proceedings, Justice Tsoho read his ruling and granted bail to Justice Ngwuta on self recognition.
He was also required to endorse a N100m bond.
He adjourned till December 7 for the prosecution to open its case.