The federal government yesterday commenced the process of trial of judges recently arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS), with the filing of a nine-count criminal charge of money laundering and corruption against Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta of the Supreme Court.
Justice Ngwuta and six others are currently suspended from work by the National Judicial Council (NJC) after the DSS raided their homes over allegations of corruption levelled against them.
The investigation into the allegations culminated in the execution of a search warrant on Ngwuta’s official residence on October 8, 2016.
In the charge filed before the Federal High Court, Abuja, by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (OAGF), Justice Ngwuta was alleged to have had in his possession, the sums of N35, 358, 000.00 (N35.3 million), $319,596.00, £25,915.00 and EURO 280.00 all of which, according to the prosecutors, are part of the proceeds of unlawful acts contrary to the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended).
The accused was also alleged to have obtained multiple passports contrary to Section 10 of the Immigration Act 2015 and punishable under the same Section. The search, according to the prosecutors, revealed four diplomatic passports (two of them valid), one official and two standard Nigerian passports, all in the name of the defendant.
He was also alleged to have made false statements to the passport office concerning his date of birth for the purpose of procuring an additional diplomatic passport for himself.
One of the counts reads: “Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, male, 65 years, No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, on or about the 8th day of October, 2016, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, retained in your possession the sum of N35, 358, 000.00 which sum forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful act and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) OF the Money Laundering ( Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended).”
No date has been fixed for hearing in the matter.
However, about three weeks ago, Justice Ngwuta accused the former governor of Rivers State and now minister of transport, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, of masterminding his arrest.
Justice Ngwuta, in a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, said Amaechi had approached him in 2013, and asked him to set aside the election that produced Mr Ayo Fayose as governor of Ekiti State and replace him with the former governor of Ekiti State, who is now the minister of solid minerals, Kayode Fayemi.
He also claimed in the letter that Amaechi had also attempted to influence other justices on the Rivers election panel. Ngwuta said: “My present plight started sometime between 2013 and 2014. I represented the then Chief Justice of Nigeria in an event organised at the International Conference Centre. Hon Rotimi Amaechi came in late and sat next to me at the high table. He introduced himself to me and we exchanged contacts. A few weeks after, Fayose’s case was determined in the Court of Appeal.
“Amaechi called me by 6.45 am. He said he had come to see me but was told I had left for my office. When he said he would return in the evening, I demanded to know what he wanted but he would not tell me.
“He did not come that evening but came the following morning when I was already prepared to go to work.
“He begged me to ensure that Fayose’s election was set aside and another election ordered for his friend, Fayemi, to contest. I told him I would not help him and that even if I were on the panel, I had only my one vote.
“After the Rivers State governorship election was determined by the Court of Appeal, he called to tell me his ears were full and he would like to tell me what he heard.
“I told him I was out of Abuja at the time. On my return, he came in the evening and even before he sat down he barked: ‘You have seen Wike.’
“I asked him whether that was a question or a statement. Then he made a call and asked me to speak with someone.
“The man he called said he was an operative of the DSS. We exchanged greetings and I handed the phone to him. Next, he said, ‘Oga is not happy.’ I asked him who the unhappy ‘Oga’ is and he answered ‘Buhari.’
“I retorted, ‘Go and talk to his wife’. He got very angry and left, remarking ‘we shall see’ several times.”
The embattled Supreme Court justice insisted that he was a victim of his resolve not to violate his oath of office,
“My Noble Lord, I am a victim of my own resolve never to violate my sacred oath of office as a Judicial Officer. Politicians and their collaborators have been hunting me on that account.”