The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, on Tuesday, nullified the acquittal ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal handed down in favour of Senate President Bukola Saraki on false declaration of assets, in June this year.
Delivering a unanimous judgment in the appeal filed by the Federal Government against the Senate President’s acquittal, the three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, headed by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, dismissed 15 out of the 18 counts filed before the CCT.
Meanwhile, Saraki has indicated his readiness to approach the Supreme Court to challenge the validity of the three counts upheld by the Court of Appeal against him.
A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Sani Onogu, quoted Saraki’s counsel, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), as saying the judgment would be studied and that the apex court would be invited to adjudicate on the three charges with a view to getting them nullified.
But the court ruled that Saraki, a former Governor of Kwara State, had a case to answer with respect to three of the counts numbered 4, 5 and 6.
Justice Akomolafe-Wilson, who prepared and read the lead ruling, held that there was “ample” evidence, led by the prosecution, to warrant the Senate President to open his defence in respect of the three counts.
With the Tuesday’s judgment of the Court of Appeal, Saraki will now return to the CCT to open his defence in respect of the three counts.
“It is ordered that this case be remitted to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for the respondent (Saraki) to enter his defence,” the Court of Appeal ruled.
In Count 4, which was sustained by the Court of Appeal, Saraki was accused of making false asset declaration at the end of his tenure as the governor of Kwara State in 2011 and on assumption of office as a Senator in 2011 in respect of a property at 17A McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos.
The prosecution contended that the defendant falsely declared to have acquired the Ikoyi property on September 6, 2006, from the proceeds of sale of rice and sugar.
In Count 5, the prosecution accused Saraki of making false asset declaration at the end of his tenure as the governor of Kwara State in 2011 and on assumption of office as a Senator in 2011, when he declared that he acquired the property at 17B McDonald, Ikoyi Lagos, on September 6, 2006 from the proceeds of sale of rice and sugar.
In Count 6, the prosecution also accused Saraki of making a false declaration in his Asset Declaration Form at the end of tenure as governor of Kwara in 2007 and on assumption of office as governor in 2007 by failing to declare his outstanding loan liabilities of N315,054,355.92 out of the loan of N380,000,000 obtained from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
Delivering judgment on Tuesday, Justice Akomolafe-Wilson held that there was “direct evidence” from the testimony of first, second and fourth prosecution witnesses supporting the three counts.
The two-man panel of the CCT, headed by Danladi Umar, had, on June 14, 2017, upheld the no-case submission filed by Saraki after the prosecution, led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), closed its case with four witnesses and 48 documentary exhibits.
Upholding the no-case submission, the tribunal dismissed the amended 18 counts preferred against Saraki on the grounds that the prosecution was unable to establish any prima facie case against the Senate President.
Umar, in his lead ruling, exonerated Saraki, holding that failure of the prosecution to obtain Saraki’s statement and make it a part of the proof of evidence was fatal to the case.
He adjudged as “absurd” that neither Saraki’s statement nor the report of investigation, said to have been carried out, was produced before the tribunal.
He agreed with the defence team, led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), that the prosecution’s evidence had been manifestly discredited during cross-examination by the defence.
But the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, through Jacobs, on June 20, 2017, filed 17-grounds notice of appeal against the CCT’s judgment.
The Federal Government faulted all the grounds on which the CCT predicated Saraki’s acquittal, describing the entire judgment as unreasonable and unconstitutional.
Jacobs subsequently filed an appellant’s brief on July 28, 2017 formulating five issues for determination.
Justice Akomolafe-Wilson, in her judgment on Tuesday, resolved four out of the five issues formulated for determination against Saraki and only one against the appellant, the Federal Government.
The only issue resolved in favour of Saraki and against the appellant was that the appellant was wrong to have contended that the burden of proof in the case of false asset declaration was on the defendant and not the prosecution.
The court held that there was nothing in the constitution that placed the burden of proof on the defendant presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
But the court agreed with Jacobs, affirming the legality of the joint investigation team comprising the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Department of State Services and the Code of Conduct Bureau, set up to investigate the case.
Restating the earlier decision of the Court of Appeal, Justice Akomolafe-Wilson said, “There is also nothing wrong or any law preventing the Code of Conduct Bureau, an agent of the Federal Government, from collaborating or acting in concert with any other organs of the Federal Government which are also engaged in investigation and prosecution of criminal matters in order to achieve its mandate under the Constitution and the law.”
The court held that the tribunal was wrong to have held that Saraki was not invited to make a statement in the course of investigating the allegations against him.
It said the Senate President actually made a statement in the course of investigation, which was tendered and admitted by the tribunal as Exhibit 46.
The court also faulted the tribunal for holding that the prosecution failed to prove its case by not tendering the original copies of Saraki’s assets declaration forms and his statement.
It said the Certified True Copies of the forms and statement were sufficient under the law to be admitted as exhibits in favour of the prosecution.
On whether the tribunal was right to have upheld Saraki’s no-case submission, the appellate court resolved the issue against Saraki.
The court also held that the allegation that Saraki was operating a foreign account as a public officer was not proved.
It held that the prosecution failed to prove that the American Express Service Europe Limited, with whom Saraki allegedly kept an account, was a bank.
It held that the prosecution also failed to tender the credit card which it claimed Saraki obtained from AMEX.
Also, the Kwara State chapter of the APC, on Tuesday, said Saraki would be vindicated at the end of the legal journey.
The party, in a statement, by its state Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Sulyman Buhari, stated that it welcomed the appellate court judgment.
Buhari said, “Though we do not agree with the section of the judgment which ordered the retrial of the Senate President on three of the counts at the CCT.
“However, the party is convinced the three charges, which the appellate court sustained, will not survive legal scrutiny at the Supreme Court. Soon, the charges will fall like a pack of cards at the Supreme Court.
“It bears repeating that our belief remains unshaken. We strongly believe the Senate President will emerge victorious at the end of the legal journey.”