The trial of suspended Supreme Court judge, Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta commenced yesterday before a Federal High Court in Abuja with the judge being granted bail on self-recognisance.
The Special Prosecutor appointed by the federal government, Charles Adeogun-Philips, had earlier opposed the bail saying Justice Ngwuta hid N27 million in his bathroom and three exotic cars in his Abakaliki, Ebonyi State home.
Justice Ngwuta was arraigned on 16-count charge bordering on money laundering, concealment of property, and obtaining multiple travel passports. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Adeogun-Philips had also objected to the bail, arguing that the judge will interfere with evidence and potential witnesses in the trial.
But Justice John Tsoho in granting the judge bail on self-recognisance worth N100 million, held that the submissions of the prosecution were based on fear since there was no proof before the court that his administrative bail was revoked on account of such interference.
The prosecutor had narrated how Justice Ngwuta made a call to his associate in Abakaliki,
Ebonyi State to remove the N27 million and the three exotic cars shortly after he was released by the Department of State Services (DSS) on October 9.
He said the judge was charged in count 10 with having multiple identities, since he was found with four valid passports, two of which are diplomatic passports.
“The Immigration Office investigations showed that the defendant declared two of those passports lost,” he said.
“My lord, we are confronted with such acts of dishonesty while on administrative bail. He was using them concurrently and interchangeably. We object to the defendant being released on self-recognisance,” he added.
Arguing the bail application, defence counsel Kanu Agabi (SAN) pleaded with the judge to release the defendant on self-recognisance based on the provisions of Sections 32, 158 and 162 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and because of his social standing.
“The defendant bears a title that nobody can take away from him. He is more anxious to take away the stain from his person,” Agabi said.
According to the charges filed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Muhammed Umar Etsu, various sums including thirty five million, three hundred and fifty eight naira (N35, 358, 000.00) and twenty five million, nine hundred and fifteen British Pounds (£25, 915) were retained by the judge on October 8, 2016.
The prosecution further alleged that between 2014 and 2016, the judge transferred funds totaling $1 million in both Naira and US Dollars to one Linus Chukwuebuka, a building contractor.
The judge was also alleged to have made a false statement to the Passport Office of the Nigerian Immigration Service concerning his date of birth for the purpose of procuring an additional Diplomatic Passport.
The offences are contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended) and Section 10 (1) (a) of the Immigration Act 2015.
The case has been adjourned to December 7 for hearing.