A mild drama played out yesterday during the ongoing trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal following the order given by the tribunal’s Chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar for the arrest of a lawyer on Saraki’s legal team, Mr. Raphael Oluyede, for contempt of court.
This is just as it was revealed that Saraki was never interrogated by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before the commencement of his trial at the tribunal.
Saraki is standing trial for false declaration of assets when he was the governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
Oluyede, who had filed a motion on Wednesday challenging the competence of Umar to try the case, attempted to get his application heard yesterday on the grounds that the defence would not get justice under Umar’s chairmanship of the tribunal.
He said: “Due to the cloudy nature of the relationship between the CCT chairman and the EFCC, the defence is afraid that they cannot get justice from the chairman.”
The statement angered Umar, who ordered him to sit down, but Oluyede refused to sit down and even challenged the chairman over his powers to get him arrested.
“Sit down, I say sit down, sit down”, Umar shouted, but Oluyede refused to yield to the order. Umar got angrier; “I will commit you for contempt for doing my job”.
An unyielding Oluyede responded, “No, you cannot.”
“Okay, where are the police, arrest him, and take him out”. But for the timely intervention of the counsel for the prosecution, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) Oluyede would have been taken away.
Trouble started immediately a representative of the lead counsel, Mr. Adebayo Adelodun (SAN) announced his appearance and that of his team for the defence.
Oluyede then stood up to call the attention of the court to a motion filed by the defendant asking the tribunal chairman to disqualify himself from the trial.
But Jacobs interrupted him and told the court that the motion in question was handed over to him on Wednesday, adding that on receipt of the notices he quickly called Saraki’s lead counsel, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN) to ask if he was aware of the application.
“I called the lead counsel to find out if he was aware of the motion but he said that he was not aware of such a motion and he did not ask anybody to file any motion,” he said.
Jacobs disclosed that the counsel who filed the motion had been appearing before the court but was not a counsel on the record, adding that the motion did not have the address of the lead counsel.
He claimed that the application was based on a false premise, insisting that the motion was not ripe for hearing.
Reacting, the chairman slammed the defence counsel for allowing such a thing to happen, saying this was an attempt to derail the course of justice.
Umar said since the defence counsel knew that the motion was not ripe and did not have the approval of the lead counsel, the defence team should not have allowed it.
However, addressing newsmen over his conduct during the proceedings, Oluyede justified his action, claiming that as a counsel in the matter he deserved to be heard.
He argued that the motion was in order and was brought in pursuit of justice for the defendant. He said the judgment of a federal High Court last week was that the motion would have been appropriate if it was filed at the tribunal, adding that that was exactly why they brought it before the tribunal.
However when Agabi later appeared, he acknowledged before the tribunal that Oluyede was a member of the defence team and he (Agabi) was aware of the application.
He subsequently apologised to the tribunal, following which the business of the day commenced with another member of the defence team, Paul Usoro (SAN) who started the cross examination of the prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas on Count 12 of the charge against Saraki.
Count 12 alleged that Saraki operated a bank account outside Nigeria where he transferred the sum of $3.4 million to American Express Europe Limited for onward transfer to his card account with American Express Bank, New York.
When asked if the charge was the same as the one in Count 11, which also accused Saraki of operating a foreign account, Wetkas answered in the affirmative.
Wetkas, a detective with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), said that the cover letter which the EFCC wrote to Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) Plc in Exhibit 8 covered the issue raised in Counts 11 and 12.
Also when asked to point out the transaction in his exhibit that relates to Count 12, he said it was a summation of the total transfer to the said account.
But Usoro again asked Wetkas to point out the transactions in the document, but Wetkas was reluctant, claiming that it would really take much time to do so.
When confronted with the figures, Wetkas said that they were charges on the account and did not constitute the final figure of $3.4 million, adding that he could not confirm if they formed part of the total sum until they are computed again.
He however admitted that besides three huge transfers, other figures in the account were just charges, but that in the course of his work, he was required to give a summation of all the transactions in his report.
As Wetkas began to list out the transfers, he was cut short by Umar who said the process would waste the time of the tribunal as it already had a copy of the exhibit.
But Usoro interjected and asked the tribunal to allow him to establish his case in the interest of justice.
Continuing, Wetkas said the strength of the position of the investigation team was based more on the statement of accounts, which showed a clear narration of the transaction in respect to the transfer to the American Express Europe Limited. He noted that the investigation was on money laundering allegations.
Wetkas also revealed that his team members stumbled upon information regarding Saraki’s assets and loans, while other team members got information regarding the Senate president’s properties.
He added that there was no account number on the telex used for the said transfer of funds by Saraki from the GTB to American Express Service, New York. “The card account number is not on the telexes,” said Wetkas.
Speaking on the relationship between the credit card and the alleged account, Wetkas said GTB was in the best position to explain the process of international transactions.
“The bank is more competent to talk on international transfers. Every transaction in the company is specialised and that is why the head of the national funds transfer of GTB is listed as a witness in this case,” he said.
He gave the name of the said witness from GTB as Amazu Nwachuku.
Wetkas also said the investigation was principally based on Saraki’s statement of account, saying the findings of his team revealed a clear transfer to the American Express through the GTB.
He however said he was unaware of any other institution besides banks that gives credit cards to their customers.
Asked whether Saraki was interrogated with regards to the American Express Bank, he said he was not sure.
He said the Senate president was not invited when a team of three EFCC investigators met with the CCB regarding his case.
“At the time the enlarged team met with the CCB, Saraki was not interrogated,” said Wetkas.
He however said the only time he was aware Saraki made a statement was during the investigation by the EFCC and that the statement was made before two of his team members, Usman Iman and Musa Sunday.
He added that he got to know about the interrogation through the team members.
“He made statements regarding those things I am referring to before other team members.
“I know my larger team asked him questions relating to his properties and about the asset declaration that he made before the CCB, as well as the companies he has interest in, both local and international, among other things,” Wetkas stated.
Asked if Saraki’s statement was tendered before the tribunal, the witness for the prosecution said he was not aware of that.
Following a request by Mr. Agabi, the lead counsel to the defence, the trial was adjourned till Wednesday, April 27.
First published in – http://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2016/04/22/drama-as-cct-chairman-orders-arrest-of-sarakis-lawyer/