From: Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The trial of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta resumed, on Thursday, before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court where the Federal Government tendered nine bags and boxes filled with local and foreign currencies allegedly recovered from the official residence of the jurist in October 2016, by operatives of the Department of States Security Service (DSS).
Justice Ngwuta is standing trial on 13 counts, bordering on money laundering, passport fraud including allegations of retention and concealment of origin of the various sums of money contained in the nine bags and boxes.
On May 16, 2017, the Federal government called it’s fifth witness, Mr. John Utazi, an operative of the DSS, who narrated how he led a team of other operatives to search Justice Ngwuta’s official residence in Abuja on October 7, 2016.
The witness revealed how huge sums of money in local and foreign currencies contained in bags and boxes were recovered at the end of the operation, which was carried out in the presence of Justice Ngwuta.
Testifying yesterday at the resumed trial, Utazi said the bags and boxes contained naira, United States dollars, British pounds sterling, euro, South African rands, United Arab Emirates dirham and Gambian dalasis.
The bags were later opened in court revealing the cash contained in them.
Out of the nine items, eight of them contained naira notes, which Utazi said totaled N35,358,000.
He said the ninth bag contained £25,915; $319,596 (USD); R50 (South African rands); €280 (euros); 380 ( dirhams); and 420 daisies.
During his evidence-in-chief on May 16, Utazi told the court that bags filled with local and foreign currencies as well as documents including building plans, land documents, vehicle papers and statements of bank accounts, were uncovered during the search of the judge’s house.
Led by the lead prosecuting counsel, Mrs. Olufemi Fatunde, the witness said the policemen and private security guards assigned to the Supreme Court Quarters, where Ngwuta’s residence was located, intially did not let him and other operatives into the premises until the guards got approval of their “superiors”.
He told Justice John Tsoho that when they were finally allowed into the residence, Justice Ngwuta declined an offer to search all the operatives in the team before the commencement of the operation.
Utazi said, “He was standing in the sitting room on the ground floor when we met him.
“I introduced myself and my team members to him and we showed the defendant our identity cards.
“I also gave him the search warrant to read, after which he asked us if the Chief Justice of Nigeria was aware.
“I answered that I was not aware.
“Thereafter, I requested the defendant to search me and members of my team.
“He declined and said there was no trouble.
“However, I asked my team members to search one another in his presence.
“After, we told the defendant that we were ready to conduct the search.”
He said his team began the operation upstairs of the duplex apartment by searching the sitting room and four bedrooms, including the one designated as the judge’s study, on the floor.
He said his team discovered huge cash sums in some bags kept in the wardrobes in one of the rooms and other cash in foreign currencies in another room.
Utaz said, “He took us upstairs of his residence. There were four rooms and a sitting room upstairs. The four rooms included the defendant’s study.
“He took us to the first bedroom. We started searching while he sat on a seat.
“There were two wardrobes in the room. One was by a closet and the other was facing the closet. As we opened the one facing the closet, there were bags. We opened the bags and asked the defendant to see the content. The content was money.
“The second wardrobe was concealed with a cloth.”
On what was found in the second wardrobe after it was opened,the witness said, “When the wardrobe was opened, we saw a lot of bags and we filled with foreign currencies.”
The witness added, “He took us to another bedroom. We searched it again and we also discovered money.
“After the second bedroom, he took us to his study.
“In the study room, we recovered bank statements, building plans, land documents, documents relating to the defendants salary and some vehicle papers.”
The witness further disclosed that the fourth room upstairs and other parts of the house were searched but nothing incriminating was found in them.
Utazi further narrated how his team later returned to the ground floor, where the two rooms and two sitting rooms located there, were searched but that nothing “incriminating” was found.
He said his team also searched the kitchen, the boys’ quarters and the car park on the premises but nothing incriminating was discovered..
He said, “We brought down the items recovered to the sitting room downstairs, where we counted the money.
“We documented everything on the back of the search warrant.
“The documentation was done in his presence.
“I endorsed the documented items recovered and also gave it to him to see.
“After seeing it, he read through and signed on it.
“Thereafter, I assembled all items recovered and told the defendant to search us just like we did when we came in.
“The defendant declined to search us but we searched ourselves in the presence of the defendant.
“We then requested the defendant to follow us and he did follow us.”