A star witness, Linus Chukwuebuka, in the trial of a Supreme Court judge, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, in the corruption and money laundering charges has revealed how he was paid the sum of N313 million in cash to build housing projects for Justice Ngwuta in various parts of Abakaliki in Ebonyi State.
The witness, the first to be called by the prosecution, also told the court how he helped the judge to move millions of naira and other properties from the residence of the judge in Abakaliki, following the arrest of Ngwuta last October by Department of State Security Services (DSS).
Ngwuta is currently facing a 16-count charge bordering on corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes filed against him by the federal government.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, the witness who claimed to be a civil engineer with Base 4 Services Limited, a building and civil engineering construction company, narrated how he was engaged by the defendant to construct several projects for him.
He said: “The total sum I received from the defendant is N313million. I received the money between January 4, 2016, and September 2016.”
Led in evidence by prosecution counsel, Charles Adeogun Philips, the witness acknowledged that Ngwuta was his customer who retained his services to build houses for him in Ebonyi State.
According to him, he first met the defendant on December 31, 2015, at Ngwuta’s private residence at Engineering Close, off Onwe road, Abakaliki.
He added that he was introduced by one Kenneth who told him the judge was in need of a reputable person or firm to handle some construction work for him.
“He showed me an empty plot of land very close to his residence and told me what structure he would like there,” Chukwuebuka said.
According to him, the defendant asked him to come up with designs for “A Library block, a four bedroom building with kitchen, all self-contained.” Others include two four-bedroom duplexes detached and a huge fence that would contain all the structures and connect it to the existing one, adding: “He also asked me to construct a car park to house some vehicles.”
Speaking further, the witness said the presentation of the designs and quotations for the job which he noted pleased the defendant, made him to mobilised him with the sum of N40million cash to commence work.
He said he had presented a bill of N148million for the job but the defendant said he would only pay N130million. “On January 4, 2016, I was mobilised to commence work by my client Justice Sylvester Ngwuta. I was paid the sum of N40million to commence work,” he said. When asked the nature of the payment, the witness said he received 25million in naira while he got the remaining N15million in dollar equivalent.
He however said there was no formal contract document for the project safe for his quotation papers and notes that were made by the defendants to him, adding that he was given a ten months period to complete the job (October 2016).
The witness also admitted that he received full payment for the project both in local and foreign currencies, though stating that some of the payments were made as the work progressed.
Apart from the first project, the witness told the court how he was further engaged by the defendant to construct projects in two other areas in Ebonyi State.
According to him, the second project which was at Onwe road, consist of demolition of a dilapidated building, sand filling of the area and construction of four units of four-bedroom duplexes for commercial purposes.
He said the project which was put at a cost of N165million was given to him sometime in April 2016, adding that he had so far received a total of N100million cash also in local and foreign currencies.
Just like the first project, the witness stated that there were no contractual document safe records of his quotations sheets.
The third project, he said, also involved demolition of a poorly-built structure located at Amofia Ukawu in Onicha council area of Ebonyi State. He said the project which cost N110million also include the erection of a duplex with a pent house, boys-quarters, fencing, painting and decoration, gate house and a plant house.
He disclosed that on the third project, he was given N53million in cash while the sum of N30million was paid through interbank transfer from Union Bank into his Zenith Bank account, adding that he was given a December deadline to complete the job.
When asked by the prosecution if he ever entertained any fear over the cash transaction between him and the defendant, the contractor said he did and at one occasion, shared his fear with the defendant but he was told the monies where from legitimate sources and savings which according to him, include proceeds from oversea conferences for Supreme Court judges, other conferences and savings from salaries.
Speaking on the role he played during the arrest of the defendant in October, the witness told the court he first learnt of the arrest by a friend, who drew his attention to a newspaper publication on October 8.
However, he said the defendant contacted him on the 9 of the same month with an unfamiliar number instructing him to go to his house and move some items that he doesn’t know what was happening in his house in Abuja.
“He asked me to remove some items in his bathroom in his residence. He also asked me to move out some vehicles from his compound,” he said.
Chukwuebuka added: “I saw some bags and removed them with my car and took them to a safe place. They are about four bags and I took them to a friend’s house.
He disclosed that the amount in the bags amount to N27million.
He also told the court that he alone drove three choice cars-Hummer 2003 model, BMW Coupe 2007 model and Chrysler Rangler Jeep 2008-to hide them in various locations.
On how he became a witness in the case, Chukwuebuka said he was arrested and interrogated by the DSS on November 10, 2016, who had been monitoring his activities.
He said after he was confronted by evidences by the DSS, he was taken to Abakaliki on the 13 of the month to recover the items he hid, adding that out of the N27million, he had already invested N24million into the project while the sum of N4.36million was recovered by the DSS.
The matter had been adjourned till February 9 for continuation of trial and cross examination of the witness.