The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Monday admitted a justice of Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, to bail with the sum of N100 million on self-recognition.
Justice Ngwuta was yesterday arraigned before Justice John Tsoho of the federal high court on 16 count charge bothering on money laundering and other financial crimes.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges which was read to him by the court clerk. Justice Ngwuta who sat moody in the dock throughout the court session with his police orderly standing behind him altered no word except the plea of not guilty.
Delivering ruling on the bail application was argued on the defendant behalf by his lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), Justice Tsoho disagreed with the claim of the FG lawyer Mr. Charles Adeogun-Philips, that the apex court justice will tamper with the investigation.
Justice Tsoho said that the Department of State Security (DSS), having deposed to an affidavit that it had completed its investigation, there was no basis for the prosecution to express any fear that the defendant will interfere with the witnesses or evidence.
Justice Tsoho ruled that though the prosecution cited several cases of misconduct and misbehaviour of the defendant during investigation, the court was however not told that the administrative bail earlier granted the defendant by the DSS was revoked and as such, there is no ground before the court to indicate that the defendant will jump bail.
Justice Tsoho said that the prosecution was not consistent in its numerous claims that the defendant will evade trial adding that the same prosecution had established that all the travelling documents of the defendant have been seized from him and that they have been keeping eagle eye on his movement.
The judge further stated that the prosecution never told the court or placed any evidence before the court that the defendant attempted to escape out of the country when he was on administrative bail. Therefore, the prosecution cannot reasonably express fear that the defendant will escape.
“The security agencies should be intense enough to scuttle any move of escape.
“It is my humble view that it will defeat the purpose of justice to deny the defendant bail. I hereby grant him a bail for N100m on self-recognition”, the judge ruled.
After his arraignment the prosecution counsel, Charles Adeogun-Philips, urged the court to proceed immediately to trial with three prosecution witnesses in court.
But the defence counsel Chief Godwin Agabi (SAN), told the court the defendant had filed bail application. He prayed the court to grant him affordable bail.
He cited S32, 158 and 152 of the ACJA, and S 35 (4) of the Constitution that the onus is not on the defendant to show that he is entitle to bail, but that the law presumed the defendant innocent until the court found otherwise.
Agabi said, the court discretion must prevail and that the defendant was granted administrative bail by the DSS and he never for once jump bail.
He told the court that the defendant will attend trial if granted bail and pleaded with the court not to impose stringent bail conditions on the defendant so as not to defeat the purpose of the bail but should rather grant him bail on self-recognition.
He told the trial judge that his client is anxious to defend himself from the charges preferred against him. “The charges are grave and we take them serious; my client will want to speedily prove his innocence.”
Meanwhile, in a vehement opposition to the bail application, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Adeogun-Philips, raised two grounds to the effect that the defendant will interfere with the prosecution witnesses and the evidence.
He said: “there is likelihood of the defendant concealing or destroying the evidence”.
Citing S 162 ACJA, the prosecution told the court that there must be consequences for so many wrong doings and the impunity of the past years.
He told the court that shortly after the defendant was granted bail by the DSS, he called his house in Abakaliki, and directed some people to move out of the house three exotic cars, and cash adding that the DSS, intercepted the 3 vehicles.
He said that the DSS in their investigation found that the defendant has 4 passports, two of which are diplomatic and two others standard Nigerian Passports.
“Contrary to the law, the defendant has been using the four passports concurrently.
“If the court is inclined to grant him bail, then it must be with the most stringent conditions.
“We vehemently oppose bail on self-recognition, anybody who has multiple identify cannot be release on bail”, he said.
Count one of the charge read: “That you Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, adult, ’M’, 65 years, of No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, on or about the 4th day of January 2016, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, transferred the total sum of One Hundred and Thirty Million denominated in, Naira and US Dollars, (N130,000,000.00) to Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, a Building Contractor, which sums formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended).
The matter has been adjourned to December 7 and 8 for trial.