The Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja on Thursday dismissed an application asking its chairman, Danladi Umar, to disqualify himself and withdraw from the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The Federal Government is prosecuting Saraki before the Umar-led CCT on 13 counts of false asset declaration which he allegedly made between 2003 and 2011 when he served as Kwara State Governor.
Saraki, had in his motion argued by his lawyer, Mr. Ajibola Oluyede, on Wednesday, asked Umar to disqualify himself on the grounds of likelihood of bias in the handling of the trial by Umar.
Oluyede argued that Umar would likely be subject to control by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on the basis that the anti-graft agency brought Saraki before the CCT for prosecution while it (EFCC) was still investigating the tribunal chairman for bribery.
But in the ruling of the two-man panel of the CCT on Thursday, Umar held that the application “lacked absolute merit”.
He upheld the opposition of the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), to the motion, to the effect that contrary to Oluyede’s claim, the EFCC had cleared him of the bribery allegation.
He added that EFCC was already prosecuting the suspect that was found to be culpable in the allegation.
He said the EFCC had by its letter dated March 5, 2015, through its then chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, to the then Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, cleared him of the alleged crime.
He said the March 5, 2015 letter in which the EFCC indicated that the allegation against him was a mere suspicion and that it did not constitute sufficient evidence to prosecute him, superseded the earlier investigation report issued by the anti-graft agency on June 24, 2014
In the June 24, 2014 report, Adoke had endorsed on it, directing that Umar and his co-accused be prosecuted.
But Umar ruled on Thursday that the EFCC was not answerable to the AGF in its investigation and prosecution of cases.
“The AGF cannot prosecute without sufficient evidence from investigative agencies,” Umar said.
He added that the incumbent AGF, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had said he (Umar) had been cleared while appearing before a House of Representatives’ committee which was petitioned with respect to the bribery allegation.
He recalled that Malami told the committee that he (the AGF) stood by the March 5, 2015 letter of EFCC to Adoke, indicating that there was no sufficient evidence to prosecute him (Umar).
He said, “The issue of having case to answer before the EFCC is over.
“The application lacks absolute merit and it is hereby dismissed in its entirety.”
The tribunal then directed the defence led on Thursday by Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), to continue the cross-examination of the first prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas.
Umar was accused of demanding N10m from an accused that was appearing before the CT sometimes in 2012.
It was alleged that Umar’s personal assistant collected N1.8m from the accused as part of the N10m bribe allegedly demanded by the CCT chairman.
But upon investigation of the petition sent to it with respect of the allegation, the EFCC retrieved the N1.8m from the personal assistant and charged him to court.
The anti-graft agency however stated that the culpability of the tribunal chairman in the allegation remained a suspicion.
The EFCC said in its report of investigation that Umar claimed to have lost his phone which could have been analysed to ascertain if Umar had actually been making demands for the bribe from the accused person.
Source: The Punch