The Federal Government, on Wednesday, applied to amend the 16-count criminal charge pending against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, in Abuja.
Already, the Justice Danladi Umar-led CCT panel has okayed Saraki to enter his plea to the fresh charge by 1:30pm. Saraki was docked before the CCT on September 22, 2015, on a 13-count charge and latter re-arraigned on April 28, 2016, on an amended 16-count corruption charge.
FG alleged that he made false/anticipatory declaration of assets, operated foreign accounts while in office as Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011, as well as collected governorship salary four years after his tenure had elapsed. FG had earlier called two witnesses that testified against the defendant before the tribunal.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Wednesday, Justice Umar stood-down the proceeding to record Saraki’s fresh plea. The development came shortly after the third prosecution witness, Pw-3, Mr. Samuel Madujemu narrated how FG uncovered discrepancies in assets the defendant declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
The witness is the Chief Admin Officer at the CCB.
He was the head of investigation Division under the Department of Intelligence, Investigation and Monitoring, that joined the EFCC to probe Saraki’s assets.
Madujemu told the tribunal that Saraki made his first assets declaration on September 16, 2003, upon his assumption of office. He told the tribunal that a joint investigative team involving the CCB, Federal Ministry of Justice and the EFCC, discovered that Saraki falsely declared his assets.
He said: ” After we discovered that there were some discrepancies, we commenced further investigations into the matter. One of the discrepancies we discovered had to do with false declaration and none declaration of some assets and some liabilities.”
The witness said he was not aware that the CCB initially verified Saraki’s assets before EFCC tendered preliminary report that ignited the joint investigation. He told the tribunal that Saraki under-declared some assets he acquired in 2006. For instance, he told the tribunal that Saraki declared two properties he bought in Lagos and left out two others.
But reading from one of the assets declaration forms marked as exhibit-3, the witness said: “My lord what I see here is No17a and 17b Mc Donald Street Ikoyi which the defendant acquired with a bank loan in 2006. “No 15a and 15b Mc Donald Ikoyi which he also acquired in 2006 was not included in the assets he declared.”
Saraki allegedly acquired the properties with N265m. The witness was at the verge of revealing more alleged discrepancies in assets the Senate President declared, when head of the defence team, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, drew attention of the tribunal to the amended charge against his client. “My lord I think we should at this juncture bring to your notice the fact that we were served with an amended charge this morning.
“You cannot proceed further in th matter until the defendant pleads to that amended charge. “My lord the defendant is psychologically affected by this amended charge and is desirous to enter his plea. “At this stage the defendant must plead to it before we proceed further on this matter. If it is not serious then the prosecution should withdraw it,” Agabi submitted.
Responding, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) said he did not raise the issue so as not to disrupt proceeding of the day. “My lord amendment can be done anytime even after their own defence, before judgment is delivered. “Moreover we are not bringing anything new. The new charge is just the old wine in a new bottle”, Jacobs argued. Though the tribunal panel observed that they were yet to receive a copy of the amended charge, Justice Umar said he was willing to stand-down the matter for one hour.
“Chief Agabi remember that Rotimi is your son”, the tribunal Chairman, Justice Umar jokingly remarked. “No my lord, Rotimi is now a bad son”, Agabi responded. Meantime, Investigation by Vanguard revealed that Saraki will now face an amended 18-count charge.