• Berate lawyer seeking to stay proceeding
By Lukman Olabiyi
Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court, Lagos yesterday ordered permanent forfeiture to the Federal Government of the sums of $43,449,947, £27,800 and N23,218,000 recovered from No. 16, Osborne Road, Flat 7B Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos.
The funds had been stashed in the apartment before being discovered and recovered on April 11, 2017 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission following intelligence.
In the final forfeiture order, the court held that no one had appeared to show cause why the permanent forfeiture order should not be made.
Declared the court: “I am in complete agreement with the submission of the learned counsel for the applicant (EFCC) that the property sought to be attached are reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities and that by every standard this huge sum of money is not expected to be kept without going through a designated financial institution. More so, nobody has shown cause why the said sum should not be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria. Having regard to the foregoing, I have no other option but to grant this application as prayed.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, I hereby make the following orders: 1. A final order is made forfeiting the sums of $43,449,947 found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission at Flat 7B of No. 16 Osborne Road, Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, which sum is reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
The EFCC had earlier on April 13, 2017, obtained an interim court order for temporal forfeiture of the funds to the Federal Government.
While granting the interim order, the court gave 14 days for anyone interested in the funds to appear before it and show cause why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
On May 5, 2017 when the matter came up, no one came before the judge to claim the money.
However, a legal practitioner, Mr. Olukoya Ogungbeje, appeared before the judge, with an application urging the judge to suspend the final forfeiture proceedings, pending when a three-man panel constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari ,in relation to the funds, would submit its report.
The panel, headed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, probed the claim and counter-claims of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Rivers State government to the funds. But the EFCC had opposed Ogungbeje’s application and urged Justice Hassan to dismiss it and go ahead with the forfeiture proceedings.
Justice Hassan upheld the EFCC’s submission and dismissed Ogungbeje’s application for lacking in merit.
The judge described the application as totally strange, noting that having not appealed against the interim forfeiture order, Ogungbeje had no right to seek a stay of proceedings in the case.
The judge, who noted that Ogungbeje was not a party in the suit filed by the EFCC, described the lawyer as a meddlesome interloper and a busybody, whose application was strange to law.
He advised the lawyer to explore the Freedom of Information Act, if he wanted information from the Federal Government on the findings of the Osinbajo panel.
After the judgment, the EFCC lawyer, Idris Mohammed, urged Justice Hassan to award a cost of N5million against Ogungbeje for wasting the judicial time of the court with his application.
But in a short ruling, the judge declined the application.
The EFCC had, while arguing the application for final forfeiture order on May 5, named the wife of the NIA Director General, Mrs. Folashade Oke, as the owner of Flat 7B, No. 13, Osborne Road, Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, where the funds were recovered.
The EFCC said it found out that Mrs. Oke made cash payment of $1.658million for the purchase of the flat between August 25 and September 3, 2015.
She was said to have purchased the property in the name of a company, Chobe Ventures Limited, to which she and her son, Master Ayodele Oke Junior, were directors.
Payment for the purchase of the flat was said to have been made to one Fine and Country Limited.
The EFCC stated that Mrs. Oke made the cash payment in tranches of $700, 000, $650, 000 and $353, 700 to a bureau de change company, Sulah Petroleum and Gas Limited, which later converted the sums into N360, 000, 000 and subsequently paid it to Fine and Country Limited for the purchase of the property.
The anti-graft had tendered the receipt issued by Fine and Country Limited to Chobe Ventures Limited, as an exhibit before the court, while seeking an order of final forfeiture of the recovered money to the Federal Government.