The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division has dismissed 15 out of 18 counts of false assets declaration charges brought against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki by the federal government for being incompetent in the face of the law.
The Court, however, remitted three count charges to the Code of Conduct Tribunal to conduct a retrial of Mr Saraki so as to enable him defend himself properly on the charges.
The appellate court in the appeal filed by the federal government against the decision of the code of conduct tribunal which discharged and acquitted the senate president on the 18 count charge in a ruling on no case submission delivered in June this year said that Mr Saraki has to make some explanations on the three counts only.
Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson in the 70-page unanimous judgment held that there was no evidence to substantiate the 15 out of the 18 counts as valid charges.
The judge however held that on counts 4,5 and 6 bothering 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 Mr Saraki.
Specifically, the appellate 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 Appeal 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 4,5,6 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 Mr Saraki did not link Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Saraki collected salaries and emoluments from Kwara State government after he had left office as the executive governor of the state adding that it was a big surprise that no single witness was invited from Kwara State to prove the allegation.
The court also took swipe at the prosecution on the allegation 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 drive 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 Mr Saraki after he had left”, the Judge said.
The appeal 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 Mr 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 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 on false assets declaration against Mr Saraki and later amended the charge and increased the counts to 18.
During the trial, 4 witnesses were called and 48 documents were tendered by government to establish the case of false assets declaration against Mr Saraki.
However, at the close of the prosecution’s case, Mr Saraki made a no case submission to the effect that he was not linked directly with any of the charges and that the charges were based on hearsay.
The tribunal headed by Danladi Yakubu Umar in his ruling on the no case submission delivered in June this year, upheld Mr Saraki’s claim that the charges were based on hearsay and discharged and acquitted him from the trial.
The federal government felt dissatisfied with the decision of the tribunal and approached the court of appeal with a prayer that the decision of the tribunal be set aside on the ground that there was a miscarriage of justice.
Meanwhile, the Senate President has indicated his readiness to approach the Supreme Court to challenge the validity of the three count upheld by the court of appeal against him.
His counsel, Paul Usoro who is a SAN said that the judgment would be studied and that the apex court will be invited to adjudicate on the three charges with a view to get them nullified.
Counsel to the federal government Rotimi Jacobs SAN also said that the legal team of government will study the judgment and decide the next line of action.