Immigration official accuses Justice Ngwuta of lying to get two diplomatic passports

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n officer of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Tanko Kutana, on Monday, told a Federal High Court in Abuja how Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court allegedly gave false year of birth and falsely declared to the NIS a loss of his diplomatic passport in 2016.

Kutana said through the false information allegedly given to the NIS by Ngwuta, the serving Justice of the Supreme Court, in 2016, obtained another diplomatic passport, which he allegedly continued to use interchangeably alongside the 2014 passport declared lost.

Kutana, a Deputy Controller of Immigration, was testifying as the third prosecution witness in Ngwuta’s trial on charges of money laundering and passport fraud offences.

The witness used to be of the Document Fraud Unit, the forensic investigative arm of the NIS in Abuja before his redeployment to the Benue State Command of the NIS.

He had earlier testified on March 17, 2017, that apart from the two valid diplomatic passports being held by Justice Ngwuta, the defendant was also discovered to have been holding two Nigerian standard passports with valid United States of America’s visas.

The two diplomatic passports issued to the defendant in 2014 and 2016 as well as two standard passports issued in 2012 and 2016 were said to have been recovered from the judge’s home during the raid by the operatives of the Department of State Services between October 7 and 8, 2016.

The witness had said he started conducting a forensic examination on the four passports after they were handed over to him by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation following the raid.

Kutana had earlier concluded his testimony with cross-examination by the defence team led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN).

But the prosecution later amended the charges by raising the counts from 12 to 13.

This prompted the lead prosecuting counsel, Mrs. Olufemi Fatunde, to request that the witness be recalled.

Led in evidence, by the lead prosecuting counsel, Fatunde, on Monday, Kutana said before the 2016 diplomatic passport was issued to the Justice of the apex court, Ngwuta had the antecedent of holding two valid diplomatic passports and using them interchangeably.

According to the witness, the defendant was previously issued a new diplomatic passport in 2012 and was asked to return the earlier one issued in 2007 to enable the Nigerian Immigration Service to cancel it.

The Immigration officer said Justice Ngwuta complied by returning the 2007 passport and the passport was cancelled.

He however said the defendant failed to return the 2012 passport when a new one was issued to him in 2014.

He said apart from failing to return the 2012 passport for cancellation, the Justice of the Supreme Court kept using the passport and his then newest diplomatic passport issued in 2014 interchangeably.

He said when the NIS authorities introduced the 64 pages passport in 2014, top government functionaries in the Presidency, presiding officers of the National Assembly and Justices of the Supreme Court were immediately issued new ones as a matter of courtesy.

According to him, Justice Ngwuta was asked to return the 2012 passport after a new one was issued in 2014, alleging that the justice refused.

He said in 2016, Justice Ngwuta, through a letter written by the Supreme Court, and backed by an extract of police diary, declared the new 2014 64-page passport missing.

According to Kutana, following the report of the loss, a new diplomatic passport was issued to Justice Ngwuta in 2016.

He said apart from falsely declaring the 2014 passport missing, Justice Ngwuta gave 1951 as his year of birth for the processing of the passport in 2014, instead of the 1952 he had always given to the NIS as his birth year for the issuance of the three other passports.

The witness stated, “I examined the database of the four passports to ensure the biodata was alright. The biodata information was alright.

“I also examined the visa pages to look at the endorsements.

“The first discovery was the year of birth in the 64-page passport issued in 2014 which had 1951 as the year of birth while the three others had 1952 as the year of birth.

“Diplomatic passports are issued to entitled persons and we rely on the information supplied to us by the entitled persons.

“The entitled person in respect of the four diplomatic passports is Justice Ngwuta Nwali Sylvester.

“Then I also discovered that the second passport issued to him on November 29, 2012 (Exhibit 13B) was issued to him to replace the nearly expired diplomatic passport issued to him in 2007. The 2012 passport was expected to expire on December 13, 2012.

“When the Nigeria Immigration Service issued to him the 64-page passport in 2014, he was also asked to return the 2012 diplomatic passport, which was still valid till 2017.

“But the endorsements on 2012 passports showed that he was still holding the two passports and using them interchangeably.”

All the four diplomatic passports issued to Justice Ngwuta in 2007, 2012, 2014 and 2016 were tendered by the prosecution and admitted by the court as Exhibits 13A to 13D.

The witness, who was led by the prosecuting counsel to read all the endorsements on the visa pages of all the four passports, explained that Justice Ngwuta had the antecedent of holding and using the 2012 and 2014 passports interchangeably.

He said Justice Ngwuta’s antecedents of using the 2012 and the 2014 passports interchangeably and the defendant’s act of allegedly giving false year of birth while processing a replacement for the 2014 passport strengthened the suspicion that the said 2014 passport was never missing.

The witness added, “Also my lord, when he was issued the 64-page passport in 2016 as a replacement for the 2014 passport that he reported lost, he continued to use the 2014 and 2016 passports interchangeably.

“We still saw endorsements in August, raising doubts as to the loss of the 2014 passport.

“There is evidence of using the passport after it was reported lost.

“If you look at his antecedent of using the 2012 and the 2014 passports interchangeably, it raises doubts about the loss of the 64-page 2014 passport.

“When one also looks at the form he completed, stating 1951 as his year of birth instead of 1952, one seems to question so many things. It raises doubt as to the loss of the 2014 passport.”

Insisting that the defendant ought to have returned the 2014 passport to the NIS for cancellation, the witness showed the trial judge, Justice John Tsoho, how the 2007 passport returned by the defendant was embossed with ‘cancelled’ stamp.

Justice Tsoho adjourned until October 6 for the cross-examination of the witness by the defence team led by Agabi.

The trial judge also fixed October 20, 26 and 27 for the continuation of the trial.

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