CCT opens trial against Onnoghen, calls first witness

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The Federal Government on Monday opened its case by calling its first prosecution witness against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja.

The witness, Mr James Apala, a Senior Investigation Officer with the Code of Conduct Bureau, who gave his evidence-in-chief, was cross-examined by the defence and re-examined by the prosecution before he was discharged on Monday.

During the proceedings that lasted about five hours on Monday, the defence led by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), alleged, without a rebuttal from the witness during cross-examination, that the six counts preferred against Onnoghen  had been prepared before investigation was concluded.

In the course of the Monday’s hearing, the three-man tribunal led by Danladi Umar admitted as exhibits six sets of documents which were tendered by the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umar (SAN).

The documents admitted, in turns, as Exhibits 1 to 6, included the petition written by Dennis Aghanya of the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative against Onnoghen.

The petition which triggered the six counts of Onnoghen’s alleged false and non-declaration of some bank accounts, was said to be dated January 7, 2019 and was received by the CCB on January 9, 2019.

The exhibit admitted also included two assets declaration forms (Forms CCB1) submitted by the defendant to the CCB  on December 14, 2016.

Also admitted as exhibits were Onnoghen’s account-opening package of his Standard Chartered Bank account.

The package comprised copies of his (travelling) passport, his Supreme Court identity card and a  Standard Chartered Bank’s  document dated January 25, 2009 stating “original copy sighted.”

His hand-written statement obtained from him by a three-man investigation team of the CCB on January 11, 2019 at his Supreme Court chambers was also admitted as exhibit.

The prosecuting counsel tendered the documents as exhibits after a brief introductory testimony of the prosecution’s first witness.

In his comments when the assets declaration forms (Forms CCB1) were tendered, Awomolo had observed that they were “in loose form and appeared to have been tampered with,” adding that he would address the issues at the final address stage.

The CCT had admitted the documents as exhibits but noted that the defence reserved the right to challenge them at the later stage of the trial.

Although overruled, Awomolo had objected to the tendering of the bank documents on the grounds that the CCB officer through whom the documents were sought to be tendered was not the maker of documents.

Testifying, Apala said the investigation team asked to probe the petition against the suspended CJN comprised a Deputy Director, Intelligence, Investigation and Monitoring with the CCB, Mr. Simon Isaac, as the leader; an Assistant Director, Intelligence, Investigation and Monitoring of the bureau, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, as a member;  and himself also as a member.

Apala said Onnoghen submitted two assets declaration forms on December 14, 2016.

He said one of the forms had two Union Bank accounts of the suspended CJN while the other had seven bank accounts with two kept with Union Bank and five others with Standard Chartered Bank.

The witness, led by the prosecuting counsel, said the first form earlier admitted as Exhibit 2, covered the period June 8, 2005 when Onnoghen was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court till November 22, 2014.

He said the second form admitted as Exhibit 3 was for 2015 but declared after the defendant assumed office as CJN in 2016.

Fielding questions from the prosecuting counsel, Apala said the two forms were received by an official of the bureau, Awal Yakassai, on December 14, 2016.

He confirmed that the two forms had acknowledgment slips bearing the same date.

Under cross-examination, Apala following Awomolo’s instruction, read out some dates appearing on the papers earlier filed by the prosecution.

The dates showed that the charges of false and non-declaration of assets had been drafted before the investigation team interviewed Onnoghen, obtained his statement and concluded investigation.

Apala conceded that the charges were filed before the Code of Conduct Tribunal within 24 hours of commencement of investigation.

Asked to fact-check on the exhibits handed to him, the CCB official admitted that the petition was received by the bureau on January 9, 2019  but was referred to him for investigation on January 10.

He said his team visited the suspended CJN on January 11 to obtain his statement.

He also said it was the same day bank records of Onnoghen were requested and obtained from Standard Chartered Bank.

Awomolo said, “You concluded your assignment within 24 hours between January 10 and 11, 2019.”

The lawyer added, “On that day, January 11, the summons was issued on the defendant.

“The complaint was received by you on January 10, investigation was concluded by you and the defendant was brought before the tribunal on January 11.

“Are you aware that by the time you were taking his statement around 1pm on January 11, six counts were already waiting for the defendant at the tribunal?”

When asked to check for the date of filing on the papers filed by the prosecution, he confirmed that it was January 11.

Fielding more questions, he said the two other team members returned to their office at about 2pm, finished the report of investigation and submitted it at about 3.45pm on January 11.

When asked, he conceded that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was not part of the bureau’s investigation of the suspended CJN.

But when asked to comment on how come the Standard Chartered Bank’s record of Onnoghen received by the bureau was addressed to the EFCC, he said, “I don’t want to answer.”

He insisted he did not have an answer even when shown the document showing the addressee as the EFCC.

The trial was adjourned till Thursday for further hearing.

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