Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High court sitting in Abuja on Monday, granted a N100 million bail to a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, on self recognition.
The embattled Supreme Court Justice was, on Monday, arraigned by the Federal Government on a 16-count charge bordering on money laundering and other financial crimes.
Justice Ngwuta however pleaded not guilty to all the 16-count charges preferred against him by the Federal Government.
After taking his plea, his counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, a former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, moved an application for Ngwuta’s bail on self recognition or in a very liberal terms in view of his status as a Justice of the apex court in the land.
Agabi told the court that Ngwuta, who had been on administrative bail, had not done anything to scuttle the course of justice in the matter, saying the defendant was presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the court.
He cited Sections 32, 158 and 152 of the ACJA, and Section 35 (4) of the Constitution, which provides that the onus was not on the defendant to show that he was entitled to bail and added that the court’s discretion must prevail at the end of the day.
He told the court that the defendant, who is anxious to clear himself of the charges against him would be available for his trial if granted bail and pleaded with the court not to impose stringent bail conditions on the defendant so as not to defeat the purpose of the bail, but should rather grant him an affordable bail.
“The charges are grave and we take them serious; my client will want to speedily prove his innocence,” he told the court.
In opposition to the application for bail, the prosecution counsel, Mr Charles Adeogun-Philips, briefed by the Federal Government through its National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC) to prosecute the Supreme Court justice, asked the court to turn down the request for bail.
He raised two grounds for raising objection to the bail application, one of which was that the defendant would interfere with potential prosecution witnesses, as well as the evidence which the prosecution intended to tender.
“There is the likelihood of the defendant concealing or destroying the evidence,” he told the court and citing Section 162 of ACJA, the prosecution told the court that there must be consequences for so many wrong doings and the impunity of the past years.
He told the court that shortly after the defendant was granted bail by the Department of State Services (DSS), he called his house in Abakaliki, and directed some people to move out of the house, three exotic cars, and the sum of N27 million stashed in three bags, adding that the DSS, intercepted the three vehicles.
He said the DSS, in their investigation, found out that the defendant had four international passports, two of which were diplomatic and two others standard Nigerian Passports.
“Contrary to the law, the defendant has been using the four passports concurrently. If the court is inclined to grant him bail, then it must be with the most stringent conditions.
“ We vehemently oppose the application for the bail of the defendant on self recognition, I will not concede to granting any body with multiple identity bail on self recognition,” he said.
Delivering ruling on the bail application, Justice Tsoho disagreed with the claim by the prosecution counsel that Justice Ngwuta would tamper with investigation.
The judge held that the DSS, having deposed to an affidavit that it had completed investigation in the matter, there was no basis for the prosecution to express any fear that the defendant would interfere with the witnesses or evidence.
Justice Tsoho held that although, the prosecution cited several cases on behaviour of the defendant during investigation, the court was, however, not told that the administrative bail earlier granted the defendant by the DSS was revoked and, as such, there was no ground before the court to indicate that the defendant would jump bail, if granted.
The trial, Judge said the prosecution was not consistent in its numerous claims that the defendant would evade trial, adding that the same prosecution had established that all the travelling documents of the defendant had been seized from him and that they had been keeping eagle eye on his movement.
The judge held that though the prosecution, in his claims, never told the court or placed any evidence before the court that the defendant attempted to escape out of the country when he was on administrative bail, the prosecution could not reasonably express fear that the defendant would escape.
“The security agencies should be intense enough to scuttle any move of escape by the defendant. It is my humble view that it will defeat the purpose of justice to deny defendant bail,” the judge held.
It was alleged in count 16 that Ngwuta transferred N505 million “denominated in naira and US dollars” to a building contractor, Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, between January and May 2016.
The N505 million was alleged to be part of proceeds of Ngwuta’s “unlawful” activities.
He was also accused of instructing a relative to remove some exotic cars from his house in Ebonyi, while he was under investigation in violation of the provisions of Section 18(1)(b) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act.
He was also accused of retaining huge sums of money in local and foreign currencies which were alleged to be proceeds of his unlawful act contrary to the provisions of the Money Laundering Act.
The prosecution also accused Ngwuta of concealing the origin of sums of the money which were said to have been found at his home during the raid on his house by the operatives of the DSS between October 7 and 8, 2016.
Apart from the money laundering charges, Ngwuta was accused of passport offences in counts eight to 14 of the amended charges.
He was accused of being in possession of two valid Diplomatic Passports and another two valid standard Nigerian passports, when his house was raided by DSS operatives on October 8, 2016.
He also allegedly submitted multiple applications, made false information of loss of the passports and of his with intention to obtain multiple passports in violation of various provisions of the Immigration Act 2015.