By Kunle Olasanmi and solomon ayado, Abuja
The Court of Appeal in Abuja yesterday remitted three count charges bordering on alleged assets declaration to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to conduct a retrial of the Senate President Bukola Saraki.
The appellate court okayed three-count charge against Saraki out of the 18-count brought against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) so as to enable him defend himself properly on the charges.
The CCB had dragged Saraki before the tribunal over alleged false asset declaration.
In dismissing the 15 out of 18-count charges brought against the Senate president by the federal government, the court described the charges as being incompetent in the face of the law.
In the appeal filed by the federal government against the decision of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which discharged and acquitted Saraki on the 18-count charge in a ruling on no case submission delivered in June this year, the appellate court said that Senate president has to make some explanations on the three out of the counts.
Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson who read a 70-page unanimous judgment of the panel of justices held that there was no evidence to substantiate the 15 out of the 18 counts as valid charges.
The judge, however, ruled that on counts 4,5 and 6 bordering on the purchase of house 17 A and B at McDonald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos by the Senate president, the prosecution was able to establish a prima facie case against Saraki.
The court held that the prosecution established that there were discrepancies in the claims on the asset declaration forms as to how the two houses in Ikoyi were acquired.
The appellate court held that the Senate president needs to provide explanations to the discrepancies established by the prosecution that the properties he claimed were bought from sales of rice and sugar in his asset declaration form were bought from loans acquired from a commercial bank.
The court concluded that credible evidence was led by the prosecution on counts 4,5 and 6 to warrant the defendant to be called upon to defend himself on how he acquired the properties disclosed in the three counts.
Justice Akomolafe-Wilson said that from the totality of the evidence adduced at the tribunal, it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that the 15 counts knocked off were based on hearsay evidence that have no probate value.
The court further held that the information supplied in the report used to prepare the charge by the federal government against Saraki did not link Saraki directly with the charges as required by law.
The appellate court held that the federal government erroneously came to the conclusion that the onus to prove the 15 charges was on Saraki, whereas it is an established fact that the party that alleges must be the one to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
The court faulted the federal government on the claim that Saraki collected salaries and emoluments from Kwara State government after he had left office as the executive governor of the state.
The Justices of the appellate court said it was a big surprise that no single witness was invited from Kwara State to prove the allegation.
The court also took a swipe at the prosecution for alleging that Saraki operated foreign account while he was in office as a state governor but called no witness to establish the allegation in line with section 37 of the Evidence Act.
In the 15 count charges that were dismissed, the court held that they were substantially based on hearsay that does not derive value from merit, adding that in a criminal trial, evidence base on hearsay is inadmissible in law.
“On this point, the federal government failed in the allegation of operation of foreign account by the defendant as no foreign bank account was linked to the defendant, while also no direct evidence was obtained from Kwara State government to establish the allegation of payment of salaries to Saraki after he had left”, the Judge said.
The appellate court further held that the 48 documents tendered by the federal government and admitted by the tribunal were not from the appropriate sources that were supposed to tender them before they could be admitted in line with provisions of the law.
Having established prima facie case against Saraki in respect of counts 4,5 and 6 which bothered on the properties at McDonald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, the court said that the tribunal should conduct the trial so as to arrive at a just conclusion on the 3 charges instead of dismissing them at a no case submission stage.
“In conclusion, we find no merit in 15 out of 18 count charges brought against the defendant by the complainant and we hereby uphold the decision of the tribunal delivered in June this year on the finding”.
“On the remaining three, it is hereby ordered that counts 4,5 and 6 be remitted to the tribunal for retrial to enable the defendant offer explanations where necessary”.
The federal government had on September 11, 2015 filed 13 count charges bordering on false assets declaration against Saraki and later amended the charges and increased the counts to 18.
Judgment’ll Not Stand – Saraki
But in a reaction, Senate President Bukola Saraki maintained his innocence stating that the judgment of the Court of Appeal will not stand.
Saraki said the judgement will not hold water because it is not consistent with the submissions made by both parties at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
In a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki said he was vindicated by the judgment of the appeal court due to the reality that it has further “confirmed the position of the Tribunal that the prosecution’s case was entirely based on hearsay, not on any concrete evidence.
“We believe that upholding the no case submission by Dr. Saraki with regards to 15 of the 18 counts charges vindicates the innocence of the Senate President. At least, today’s judgement has confirmed the position of the Tribunal that the prosecution’s case was entirely based on hearsay, not on any concrete evidence.
“The verdict of the Court of Appeal, just like that of the Tribunal before it, aligned with our position that the preposterous claims made during trial by the prosecution concerning operation of foreign accounts, making anticipatory declarations, collecting double salaries, owning assets beyond his income and failure to declare assets owned by companies in which the Senate President owns interests, among others, have fallen like a pack of cards and lack any basis,” it stated.
Stating further, the statement noted: “On the remaining three counts, which really touch on two issues, referred back to the Tribunal for the Senate President’s defence, it should be noted that the Appellate Court only gave a summary of its decision… As soon as it makes the details of the judgment available, our lawyers will review the grounds of the decision and take appropriate action.
Continuing, the Senate President said “it is our view that that aspect of the judgment will not stand.”