Code of Conduct Tribunal: Saraki, Ngwuta, others may forfeit alleged undeclared assets
*CCT’s new Practice Direction 2017
Senate President Bukola Saraki and Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, among other defendants currently being prosecuted before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), may have their properties, which are subject of the charges preferred against them, temporality forfeited pending the final determination of their cases.
This is according to the CCT’s new Practice Direction 2017, recently. The 26-paragraph Practice Direction, with commencement date of 16th February, 2017, is signed by the Code of Conduct Tribunal’s Chairman, Danladi Umar and the other member of the tribunal, William Atedze.
Paragraph 12 of the document, which deals with ‘Seizures’, gives the prosecution the discretion to apply (through ex-parte motion) for temporary forfeiture of assets which are subject of the trial pending the final determination of the case.
It allows the prosecution to make the application for property seizure at the commencement of the trial or “at a reasonable time thereafter”.
According to legal experts and pundits who have analysed the document, since the new practice direction is a procedural framework, it will take immediate effect on ongoing cases.
Paragraph 12 reads, “The prosecution may, at the commencement of the trial or at a reasonable time thereafter, apply to the tribunal for an interim order of seizure, forfeiture and confiscation of the property, the subject of the charge pending the final determination of same by the tribunal.
“An application for temporary seizure may be heard in chambers or in open court by the tribunal. Application for temporary seizure shall be made motion ex parte supported by an affidavit and schedule of the property to be so attached.”
Saraki is being prosecuted by the Federal Government before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on 18 counts including mostly false assets declaration.
Some of Saraki’s properties which are the subject of the charges preferred against him are located at 15, 17, 17A and 17B Mcdonald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos. Others are located at Plots 2481 and 2482 Cadastral Zone A06, Maitama, Abuja, (otherwise known as 1 and 3 Targus Street, Maitama, Abuja).
Saraki is also accused of obtaining a N375m loan from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc on 11th February, 2010, which he allegedly used to buy property in London. The Senate President was said to have failed to declare the London property.
On his part, Justice Ngwuta was arraigned on eight counts before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on 20th April. Properties, which are subject of the case, are listed in seven of the counts.
In count one to seven, the prosecution accused Ngwuta of false declaration of assets by failing to declare a parcel of land and properties in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, as well as some luxury cars, all belonging to him, when he declared his assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau between 2nd June, 2011 and 19th July, 2016.
The offence is said to be contrary to Section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act, Cap C15 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under Section 23(2) of the same Act.
The Justice of the apex court is also accused in count eight of engaging in private business as a public officer, contrary to Section 6(b) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
Specifically, in count one to three he is accused of failing to declare his parcel of land measuring 1,722.952 Square Metres located at Umkpufu, Off Onwe Road, Azuiyiokwu, and properties at Plot 36, Onwe Road Layout as well as Plot 35, GRA Extention (Onwe Road) Layout, allin Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.
In count four to seven, the Justice of the Supreme Court was accused of failing to declare between 2nd June, 2011 and 19th July, 2016, the following cars as part of his assets:
- A Wrangler Jeep with Vehicle No: VRG5553562034689, Chassis No: IJ4GA591581626734 and number plate RSH526AJ;
- A BMW 5 Series Saloon with Vehicle No: 7779067484832 and Chassis No: WBSWL91060P323876, marked KUJ510FU;
- A Hummer Jeep with Vehicle No: VRG77746900444362 and Chassis No: 5GRGN2389H101515 and number plate KWL881JE;
- A Liberty Jeep with Vehicle No: VRG77746817425807 and Chassis No: 1J8GP28KX9W550564, marked RBC570DP.
Forfeiture of property, which is the subject of a trial, has been part of the three types of sentences imposable on the defendant found guilty since the establishment of the tribunal.
But giving room to the prosecution to request the seizure of the said property before the final determination of the case is novel at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
The other two sentences the tribunal can pass on a defendant, convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, are vacation of office and disqualification from holding public office for 10 years.
The new practice direction explains in its First Schedule that one of the sentences or combination of two or all the three sentences can be passed on a convict depending on the level of harm of the offence on the victim and the level of culpability of the defendant in the offence.
The document also now divides the trial before the tribunal into four stages, which are arraignment, pre-hearing, the trial and sentencing procedures.