Alleged Money Laundering: Justice Ngwuta Pleads Not Guilty, Granted Bail
Justice Sylvester Ngwuta has entered a not guilty plea to the 15-count charges of money laundering, breach of professional ethics and forgery leveled against him by the federal government.
He has also been granted bail in the sum of 100 million naira on self-recognition.
When the charges were read to him, the Supreme Court judge told the court that he was not guilty of the 15 counts.
Attempt by his lawyer to ask for bail was opposed by the prosecutor, Mr Adeogun Philips who said he had just been served and would need a short adjournment to respond.
With no objection by the defence lawyers, the trial judge, Justice James Tsoho, stood down the case by two hours.
On resumption of hearing on the bail application, counsel to Justice Ngwuta, Kanu Agabi asked the court to release the defendant on self-recognizance, taking judicial notice of the fact that he is a justice of the Supreme Court and the fact that he has been on administrative bail since on October 8, 2016.
Opposing the application, the prosecuting counsel, Mr Charles Philips, said that the defendant cannot be granted bail with respect to his position.
Mr Philips, who referred to charges number three and charges numbers 10-16 against Justice Ngwuta, informed the tribunal that barely 20 minutes after he was released on administrative bail, Justice Ngwuta gave instructions to a witness in the case to remove two or three bags containing 27 million naira from his bathroom at his residence in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state.
The prosecuting counsel also told the court that Justice Nwguta also instructed the said witness to remove three exotic cars from his residence on the same day and that they are nowhere to be found. That is what forms the subject of charge number three.
Speaking further he informed the court that in the course of investigation, the Department of State Services (DSS) discovered that Justice Ngwuta maintained multiple identities.
According to him Justice Ngwuta had four passports which he used concurrently.
Although he had reported two of those passports missing, he argued that in any jurisdiction in the world, if a person possesses several identities he cannot be released on self-recognizance.
He therefore asked the court not to grant bail but if it is inclined to, it should grant bail in the most stringent terms.
Reacting to the counter application, counsel to Justice Ngwuta, Mr Kanu Agabi, told the court that he was not willing to join issues with the prosecutor because he had gone into the substantive suit which is not allowed by law and that the constitution is clear as to when bail should be granted or not.
He added that should the court reach its conclusion based on the prosecutor’s submissions, verdict would have been decided before the case is started.
Having listen to both parties, the trial judge, Justice John Tsoho stood down the matter for ruling at 2:30PM.
On resumption, Justice John Tsoho granted bail to Justice Sylvester Ngwuta in the sum of 100 million naira on self-recognizance.
According to Justice Tsoho though the prosecution sought to impress the court on the defendants’ unworthiness for bail, it failed to show that in spite of the concerns raised, the defendant had his administrative bail revoked.
He also added that it is no secret that the security agencies are watching every move made by the judge with kin interest, which is how they found that he had multiple passports.
As such the prosecution should rely on the same security apparatus to prevent any attempt not to be available for trial.
He added that it would be great injustice to prevent any citizen from enjoying bail in available offence.
According to Justice Tsoho, it is on record that the prosecution had filed an affidavit of completion of investigation and on the other hand it is raising objections that witnesses and evidence will be tampered with.
The prosecution, he said, should be able to maintain consistency rather than the inconsistencies.
Justice Tsoho then went on to say that there is no evidence before the court that Justice Ngwuta would not be available for his trial and because the offence for which he is standing trial is bailable, he is inclined to grant bail.
Trial has been fixed for December 7 and 8.
Justice Ngwuta was one of the seven judges arrested after a DSS raid on the homes of High Court and Supreme Court judges across the country on October 8, 2016.