The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has accused Walter Onnoghen, the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), of refusing to declare his assets upon his appointment as a judicial officer in 1989.
According to the anti-graft commission, there was no evidence that the suspended CJN “ever declared his assets until 2016”.
This was contained in a petition filed by EFCC against Onnoghen before the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The petition read: “Upon his appointment as a judicial Officer in 1989 as justice of the High Court of Cross Rivers State, the Respondent is bound to declare his asset. There is no evidence before this Honourable Panel that the Respondent ever declared his asset until 2016 when he filled annexure E and F of exhibits R 6 and R7.
“My lords, in exhibit R7, the Respondent admitted that he failed to comply with the Constitutional provisions requiring him to declare asset on the ground that he forgot due to pressure of work. My lords, even in the conventional court where rules of evidence is applicable every admitted facts need no further prove. See Agbakoba v. SSS (1994) 8 NWLR (Pt.351) p. 475 and the case of Gov. of Akwa-Ibom State v. John Amah (2002) 7 NWLR (Pt.767) 730 at 778.”
The agency also accused Onnoghen of depositing the sum of $1,716,000 in a United State Dollars account operated with the Standard Chartered Bank in 2009, marked as exhibit P4 C, between 2009 and 2016.
According to EFCC, Onnoghen’s earnings as a judicial officer could not satisfactorily account for the amount found in the account.
The petition continued: “From the evidence on record, it is clear that the Respondent failed to declare all the accounts and funds in exhibit P4-P4D when he declared his 2014 asset in November 2016. Your lordship will observe that the Respondent only declared his Salary account with the Union Bank exhibit P3 and failed to declare P4-P4D, which are the accounts that warehoused funds that are far above the Respondent’s known and provable lawful income.
“My lords, by the provisions of Rule 1.2 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers it is clear that because members of the public expect a high standard of conduct from a judge, the Respondent is under the obligation to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities both in his professional and private life. It is our submission my lords, that any conduct of the Respondent that give rise to the appearance of impropriety is a judicial misconduct and same is punishable under the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.
“It is our humble submission that the petitioner proved before this Honourable Panel that the Respondent was in possession of funds which are fairly not attributable to his known, proveable and legitimate source of income. The evidence shows that my lord earned a monthly salary in the sum of N750,819.87 which is about N9,000,000.00 per annum. My lords, as shown in exhibit P10A page 14 paragraph XXVI the Respondent only earned the sum of N91,962,362.49 as salary between September 2005 and October 2016. It is also on record that the exhibit P3 is the salary account of my lord wherein his salaries are paid.
“My lords, the evidence before this Honourable Committee shows clearly that the Respondent opened United State Dollars account with the Standard Chartered Bank in 2009, exhibit P4 C. This USD account was opened by Mr. Joe Agi SAN and the first cash depositor of United State of America Dollars into the said account. We humbly refer my lords to the entry of the 29th day of June,2009. Though the Respondent claimed that he was the one who gave the learned SAN, Joe Agi the $30,000.00 to deposit to exhibit P4C, the Respondent could not give any reasonable explanation as to source of this money. My lords, the Respondent admitted under cross-examination that the USD was not his salary and that he only received dollars as estacodes which is meant to for his official trips.
“My lords, upon the opening of the USD account exhibit P4C, a lot of cash deposits in Dollars were made to this account. The evidence before my lords is that between 2009 and 2016 a lot of cash deposits were made into exhibit P4C.
“My lords, from the evidence before this Honourable Panel it is clear that these huge sums of money were not earned by the Respondent as his salaries and allowances. It is our humble submission that the burden of proving the legitimate source or origin of the sum of $1,716,000.00 lies heavily on the Respondent.”
The amounts in the said account were deposited as follows: $74,200 (2009); $291,800 (2010); $340,000 (2011); $625,000 (2012); $298,000 (2013); $40,000 (2015) and $47,000 (2016). The total was $1,716,000.
The petition also noted that Onnoghen had attempted to ecxplain the source of the funds, wherein the suspended CJN was quoted to have stated that: “The sources of these are from my savings from my days as foreign student and a successful private legal practitioner, as well as Estacodes for annual for annual vacations, medical expenses, international conferences, my earnings as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Gambia (See Annexure “B” referenced as ZD 129/186/01/P.II/(148), among others; conversion of Naira to Dollars which sometimes ago was very favorable.
“I also have returns from my off-shore investments in the foreign currencies which are clearly documented by the bank. I had an overdraft of $500,000 approved for me in the USD Dollars account in November, 2018. Up till now, the proceeds from the investments are paid into the account as and at when due. My investments with Standard Chartered Bank also include Federal Government Bonds as can be seen from the records for which I received dividends.”
However, the EFCC said Onnoghen’s explanation was “laughable”.
“My lords, the Respondent wanted this Honourable Panel to believe that when he was a foreign student in Ghana he accumulated such amount of money. My lords, how the Respondent accumulated money as foreign student was not stated to this Panel. My lords, the Respondent who purportedly cannot afford to pay N7, 000,000.00 to Joe Agi SAN in 2009 wanted this Honourable Panel to believe that he accumulated dollars to the tune of $1,716,000.00 in his house.
“My lords, the Respondent who never declared having $1,716,000.00 in his asset declaration form as cash in hand wanted this honourable Panel to believe that he accumulated the said sum in his house and only deposited them in the bank between 2009 and 2016 in cash.
“My lords, the Respondent also attempted to suggest to the Honourable Panel that the $1,716,000.00 cash deposit in exhibit P4C was earned by him upon his part-time appointment as Justice of the Supreme Court of Gambia. My lords, this explanation with due respect is laughable in that the Respondent was appointed on the 22nd day of November 2012. On the face of the appointment letter, it is clear that the Respondent is entitled to the Five Thousand pounds Sterling (5,000 GBP) and Twenty Thousand Dalasis which is payable per session to be determined by the Chief Justice of Gambia in line with the Rules of the Supreme Court of Gambia.
"The Respondent failed to show this panel that consequent upon his appointment in November 2012 and the assumption of that office in 2013 the number of sessions he sat as a member of the Supreme Court of Gambia. The Respondent also failed to state how much he earned from Gambia, how he was paid whether cash or through his account. What is clear is that if the Respondent is to earn any fee from Gambia it will be GBP and not USD. What is in issue is the USD paid in exhibit P4C.
“The summary of our submission is that the Respondent has failed to show with credible evidence how he legitimately earned the sum of $1,716,000.00 which is far above his lawful and provable income.”