The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has told the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) sitting in Abuja that his assets declaration forms have been tampered with. Onnoghen, who noted this through his counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), while the prosecution sought to tender his two assets declaration forms as exhibit through its Prosecution Witness One, stated that he would address the tribunal at the appropriate time. The Federal Government is prosecuting Onnoghen over alleged non-declaration of five of his domiciliary accounts with Standard Chattered Bank.
At the resumed trial yesterday, the prosecution invited its star prosecution witness, James Opala who is a Senior Investigation Officer with the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). Opala had informed the tribunal that he was a member of the three-man team of investigators saddled with the responsibility of investigating a petition written against Onnoghen.
The witness, during examination in chief led by the prosecution witness, Aliyu Umar (SAN), informed the tribunal how a petition was filed against Onnoghen and how a team was constituted to investigate it. According to him,
“On January 9, 2019, I was in my office at the CCB that morning when I received a call from my superior, Samuel Madojemu, who happens to be a member of the (investigation) team. “He directed that I investigate a petition. Having done the required processes – routine investigation – case file was opened and investigation plan was drawn. “The petition was authored by Chief Dennis Aghanya of the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative, alleging breach of Code of Conduct for Public Officers, including nondeclaration of assets and false declaration of assets, against the Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON, the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Thereafter, the team wrote to the Federal Political Officers Unit (of the bureau), Asokoro, requesting the defendant’s asset declarations received from 2000 to 2009. “The department responded. The two asset declaration forms were examined and filed in the case file.” He added that the petitioner was invited and his statement was recorded and thereafter he signed. He further stated that on January 11, at about 12 noon, the team visited Onnoghen’s office at the Supreme Court to take his statement. He, however, tendered the first set of exhibits it said would establish allegations it levelled against Onnoghen at the CCT.
The witness tendered before the CCT, a copy of the petition that led to Onnoghen’s trial. He equally tendered in evidence, two asset declaration forms Onnoghen submitted in 2014 and 2015. Meanwhile, before the asset declaration forms were admitted, Onnoghen, through his counsel, Awomolo, alleged that it was tampered with. Onnoghen insisted that the Form 001 he filled in 2014 and 2015, were no longer the way he submitted it to the CCB. He queried why the hitherto bound documents appeared “in loose form” before the tribunal, alleging that it was tampered with, with some of the pages missing. Nevertheless, Awomolo said he would raise his client’s objection to the admissibility of the documents, in his final written address. “We have some reservations on the documents. We will not object in the interest of justice, but we have reservations that would be addressed at the end of the day,” he added. Under cross-examination conducted by the defence counsel, the witness admitted that he had no idea whether the bureau has a central register where records of people who declared their assets are kept. He also admitted that he has no idea how many assets declaration forms were sent out from 2003 till date. Apala further admitted that he had never worked in the department where assets declaration form is being issued before. The defence counsel requested that the charge sheet be given to the witness to confirm the date on it. He confirmed the date was January 10. He was asked whether he would be surprised to discover that a charge had been filed against the defendant, a day before his team went to take his (defendant) statement. The witness responded that he was not aware, because his department was different from the legal department. He was also asked whether his team involved the EFCC in its investigation and he answered No. He was, however, asked to react to the fact that one of the documents he tendered as evidence was addressed to the EFCC. He said he could not answer the question. The defence, however, closed its cross examination. Consequently the prosecution prayed the court for an adjournment to enable it bring its second witness. He further prayed for the tribunal to issue a subpoena on some staff of Standard Chartered Bank to come and give evidence in the matter. While adjourning till March 21 for continuation of trial, the tribunal granted an order to subpoena Onnoghen’s accounts officer in SCB. Meanwhile, the tribunal ended the trial in darkness, as New Telegraph learnt that the diesel in the generator got exhausted. While the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, was asked whether the trial should be put on hold pending when electricity will be restored, he responded that the trial should continue inside darkness.