The Federal Government on Thursday closed its case in the trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on charges of false and non-declaration of assets before the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja.
In spite of the fact that the prosecution council, led by Mr Aliyu Umar (SAN), had earlier proposed to call six witnesses to prove its six charges against the suspended Chief Justice, it closed its case after calling just three of them.
Umar announced his decision to close the prosecution’s case after the third witness, Ifeoma Okeagbue, an official of Standard Chatered Bank, concluded her testimony on Thursday.
The lead defence counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN)subsequently sought the permission of the Danladi Umar-led tribunal to converse with Onnoghen in the dock.
After a brief interaction with the suspended CJN, Awomolo announced that he had opted to file a no-case submission.
He said “My Lord, we will like to take advantage of our right under Section 303 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 to file a no-case submission.”
This means that the defense will be contending that the charges should be struck out on the grounds that prosecution has failed to make out a case against the defendant, hence there will be no need for the suspended CJN to enter any defense.
Responding, the tribunal chairman has ordered the defence to file and serve its no-case submission on the prosecution which must also be replied to before March 29.
He adjourned till March 29 for adoption of the written addresses by the parties.
Previously, The Federal Government had filed against Onnoghen six counts on January 11, 2019, bordering on failure to declare his assets between June 2005 and December 14, 2016.
The other five counts bordered on allegation that the suspended CJN made false declaration of his assets on December 14, 2016 by allegedly omitting to declare his domiciliary dollar, euro and pound sterling accounts as well as his two naira accounts, all maintained with Standard Chartered Bank (Nig.) Limited.
Onnoghen had pleaded not guilty to the six counts.
The first prosecution witness, Mr James Apala, a Senior Investigation Officer of the CCB and a member of the three-man team of the bureau which investigated Onnoghen’s case, had earlier on Monday testified.
The prosecution closed its case after testimonies were given by the remaining witnesses who testified on Thursday.
Testifying as the second prosecution witness, Mr Awal Yakasai, a former Director of CCB in charge of the Federal Political Officer Department, said his department was also saddled with the responsibility of receiving completed assets declaration forms from judicial officers.
He said he worked in the department up till February 2017, and retired from service in April 2018.
Led by the lead prosecuting counsel, Umar, Yakasai said he received two assets declaration forms from Onnoghen, who came to the CCB office in Abuja, in company with another person to submit the forms on December 14, 2016.
Under cross-examination by defence lawyer, Awomolo, the witness admitted that the two assets declaration forms had not been verified by the CCB since 2016 when they were submitted to the bureau by Onnoghen.
When asked, he also confirmed that Onnoghen had claimed to own only five houses in the forms and not 55 as being speculated in the media.
Testifying as the third prosecution witness on Thursday, the official of Standard Chartered Bank, Okeagbue, said she was the Team Leader, Priority Banking, and Onnoghen’s Relationship Manager at the branch of the bank in Wuse II, Abuja.
The witness said the defendant’s five accounts were opened between 2009 and 2011.
Asked to read out the opening balances and the last entries in the statements of Onnoghen’s accounts earlier admitted as exhibits, he read, “On the account 5001062686, the opening balance in January 2018 was €30,178.58.
“As at December 2018 the balance was €10,187.18.
“On account 5001062693, as at January 2018 it was with opening balance of N6,411,312.77.
“As at December 2018, the balance was N12,852,580.52
“On account 5001062679, the opening balance as at January 2018 was £39,456.08 and by December 2018 the balance was £13,730.70.
“On account 0001062667, the opening balance as at January 2018 was N24,280,904 and as at December 2018, the balance was N2,656,019.21.
“On account 0001062650, as of January 2018, the opening balance was $80,824.25, and by January 2019, the balance was $56,878.”
Under cross-examination by the defence lawyer, the witness confirmed that as of January 2016, the bank had granted a loan of $500,000 to Onnoghen.
She also confirmed with proves that the loan was guaranteed by the suspended CJN’s investments in bonds issued by the Federal Government, shares, among others.