KUNLE ODEREMI looks at the situations in other countries and how they have been dealing with allegations of corruption in their judiciaries.
THE Nigerian judiciary is not an island. Like the other arms of government, it has had a fair share of the twists and turns in the evolution, development and history of the country. From the era of military dictatorship to civilian dispensation, the judiciary constantly came under serious scrutiny, culminating in the setting up of either panels or commissions to X-ray the judiciary painstakingly and recommend appropriate reforms that should be carried by concerned authorities.
The most-talked about of such initiatives was the one presided by the famous and courageous jurist, the late Justice Kayode Eso, whose far-reaching recommendations included a holistic purge of the judiciary, especially the Bench, of a few bad eggs. The late iconic lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), lived the greatest part of his last days on earth leading a crusade for self-cleansing by the Nigerian judicial system. From information emanating from official quarters since the raging controversy trailing the arrest of some judges by operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS) for alleged corruption, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has been invoking its powers on erring judicial officials, as empowered under Section 153 of the Constitution.
In other lands, many judges have received severe sanctions over wide ranging offences based on due process, as well laid down rules and procedures. Apart from losing their revered positions as judges through sudden retirement, some were arrested and prosecuted by appropriate agencies of the state, a few of which are highlighted below:
The Chief Justice of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, Kil Mochtar was arrested by anti-corruption officials for allegedly accepting at least $250,000 (£154,000) in bribes in respect of a regional election. The Constitutional Court, established in 2001, enjoys a similar status with the country’s Supreme Court. Its responsibilities include hearing cases concerning the constitution and making decisions on election-related cases. Mochtar was once a member of the Golkar Party before joining the Constitutional Court. According to the Corruption Eradication Commission, he was arrested at his home in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital after a businessman and a lawmaker allegedly handed him money. The case was linked to a disputed election on Borneo Island.
Héctor Trujillo, a Guatemalan judge and soccer official was charged by the United States last December with accepting and laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. He was held in solitary confinement at a detention centre in Brooklyn until he was released on a $4 million bond. But part of the stringent bail condition was that Trujillo must wear an electronic monitor and remain within 50 miles of the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.
Trujillo was arrested on December, 2015, when the Disney cruise ship he was on with his family docked in Port Canaveral, Fla. For five years, he had served as the Secretary-General of Guatemala’s soccer federation and a judge on Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, and was indeed, one of the 41 defendants in the United States’ criminal case against FIFA. After his arrest by customs agents, Trujillo spent three weeks in the custody of United States marshals at a central transfer facility in Oklahoma. After arriving in New York, authorities placed him in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn for his protection because of his judicial position. He later appeared in court with his wife and their son. Trujillo pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, which include racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.
A report by the Sun newspaper of London on August 28, 2011 indicated that a total of 29 members of the judiciary were sacked, including one coroner and six tribunal panel members in the United Kingdom. Their offences ranged from “inappropriate behaviour or comments” to professional misconduct or getting into trouble with the law themselves. Another 25 resigned while under investigation, including two judges, and 18 magistrates. One judge was accused of having an affair with a male prostitute, while a number of magistrates were axed for being at the centre of fraud investigations. Judge Gerald Price resigned during the disciplinary process into claims he had an affair with a male prostitute.
The Press Trust of India reported that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) allegedly arrested a senior judge of Tis Hazari court while she allegedly accepted a bribe from a lawyer. Rachna Tiwari Lakhanpal, Civil Judge, was allegedly caught in the act with an advocate, who was appointed as local commissioner by her in a case before her court. It was alleged that Rs 4 lakh was the first installment of total demand of Rs 20 lakh demanded by the judge.
In 2010, three high-court judges and a prosecutor were reportedly detained over allegations of collecting bribes to fix the outcome of a high-profile case. With time, Taiwan’s highest-level judicial official, Lai In-jaw, who was in charge of the island’s supreme and lower courts, chose to resign because of the public outrage over the case. The case was said to be Taiwan’s biggest judicial, corruption scandal in more than a decade and involved Ho Chih-hui, an ex-lawmaker with the ruling Kuomintang. He was convicted in 2006 by a lower court for taking kickbacks over the building of a science park. He was given a 19-year sentence. Taipei District Court documents indicated that contacts of Mr Ho allegedly tried to bribe judges sitting in a higher court, in an attempt to buy his freedom. Earlier in the year, the judges handed down a not-guilty verdict to Mr Ho, but on July 13, members of an anti-corruption task force stormed the homes and offices of the judges and the prosecutor in the matter. Because of the case, the then president of the country, Ma Ying-jeou, commenced moves to establish a new commission to battle corruption and vote-buying.
Guatemalan authorities arrested three lawyers representing defendants in a massive customs tax fraud case known as Caso SAT. The scandal forced Vice-President Roxana Baldetti to resign. The UN Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG), which investigated the La Linea corruption network, accused lawyers José Arturo Morales, known as “Chepito,” Jorge Luis Escobar and Ruth Emilsa Trigueros of allegedly running a “law firm of impunity” that bribed corrupt judges to make unjustified decisionsin favour of organised crime groups. A total of 27 individuals—including the director and former director of Guatemala’s Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (Tax Administration Superintendency—SAT)—Álvaro Omar Franco Chacón and Carlos Enrique Muñoz Roldán, were also apprehended. Wiretap recordings showed how six other leading defendants in the case allegedly used the three lawyers to bribe the presiding judge, Josefina Sierra González de Stalling, in exchange for obtaining release on bail and unguarded house arrest instead of prison. The members of La Linea periodically met in a clothes boutique owned by Mendizábal, a controversial figure. As part of a separate investigation conducted , the Supreme Court agreed to impeach Judge Jisela Reinoso, who was accused of money laundering and illicit enrichment.
The President of the country, Otto Perez Molina, was also forced to quit because of the scandal. He resigned after a judge issued an order to detain him in a customs fraud case, which already had led to the jailing of his vice-president and the resignation of some Cabinet ministers. The judge’s order dealt the most serious blow to entrenched political corruption in the country, as it was not for arrest alone but also for Molina to appear before Judge Miguel Angel Galvea, who granted the request from Attorney General Thelma Aldana. Prosecutors claimed they had reason to believe that Molina was involved in a fraud scandal involving bribes funneled to a chain of officials, who allegedly helped businesses evade import duties. The scandal claimed the job of former Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, whose former personal secretary was named as the alleged ringleader.
On January 31, 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested nine judges for “conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, perjury, making false statements to the FBI, and aiding and abetting.” One of the judges, Willie Singletary, was seen in a video meeting with a motorcycle club called the Philadelphia First State Road Rattlers, saying: “There’s going to be a basket going around because I’m running for Traffic Court judge, right, and I need some money. I got some stuff that I got to do, but if you all can give me $20 you’re going to need me in Traffic Court. Am I right about that? … Now you all want me to get there, you’re all going to need my hook-up, right?” Some of the accused judges — who were on the Bench between 2008 and 2011 — are William Hird and Michael Sullivan. They faced hundreds of years in prison.
On November 4, 2015, the agency arrested a superior North Carolina court judge for bribery and corruption. The judge, Arnold Jones II allegedly attempted to bribe an FBI agent for information on what he described as a “family matter.” He faced about 37 years in jail. Prosecutors said he approached the unidentified FBI officer in October 2015, and the two subsequently met in Goldsboro to exchange $100 for a disk supposedly containing the text messages. Jones initially offered to give the officer “a couple cases of beer” for his help but later agreed to $100 in cash.
Also, on May 30, 2014, FBI arrested a superior Puerto Rico court judge for bribery. Manuel Acevedo Hernandez, the judge, was accused of accepting bribes to pervert the cause of justice in a fatal drunk-driving case. He was detained at his home after the FBI concluded its investigation. The suspect was detained at his home in Aguadilla. The indictment also charges that the judge agreed to acquit Lutgardo Acevedo Lopez, a certified public accountant, in exchange for help in being promoted to appellate judge and to find employment for two of relatives. “In my 35 years of experience, I’ve never seen anything like this,” US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said at the time. The judge pleaded not guilty and received a $50,000 bail.
After judiciary, where next in Nigeria?
While ripples created by the DSS action against some judges spread, Lilymjok, the Senior Special Assistant President Muhammadu Buhari on Legal Matters, Research and Documentation, has hinted that the authorities planned to step on more toes in the coming days. He said the current war on corruption would at the right time be taken to the Executive arm of government. His words: “The current onslaught of the war on the judiciary is only a phase in the anti-corruption war. This being the case, the judiciary should accept the eventuality of the war in its hallowed chambers instead of going to town by itself or through the lawyers crying foul,” he said.