Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday ordered the permanent forfeiture of a sum of $153,310,000, which was alleged to have been diverted from the coffers of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The judge ordered that the money should be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had traced the money to three commercial banks in the country where it was kept in the sums of N23,446, 300,000, N9,080,000,000 and $5m.
The anti-graft agency had on January 6, 2016 approached Justice Hassan with an ex parte application, wherein it stated that the money was proceeds of crime and urged the judge to make an order to forfeit it to the Federal Government temporarily.
The judge had granted the interim forfeiture order and gave 14 days for anyone interested in the money to appear before him to show cause why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
When the case was heard on January 24, 2017, no one came to court to claim ownership of the N23,446, 300,000 and the $5m.
But one of the executive directors of one of the banks, who was joined as second respondent in the suit, appeared in court through his lawyer, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Philips, to claim the N9,080,000,000.
Adeogun-Philips had told the judge that the EFCC misrepresented facts in urging the court to order the forfeiture of the N9,080,000,000 belonging to his client as proceeds of crime.
He said his client was arrested by the EFCC and was coerced by the operatives of the anti-graft agency to sign an undertaking to make a refund of N9.08bn to the Federal Government as a condition for his release.
Adeogun-Philips said his client had to run around to raise the money from his associates.
He urged the judge to order the release of the money to his client.
In his judgment on Thursday, however, Justice Hassan said he found from the exhibits presented before the court that Adeogun-Philips’ client was not coerced but he voluntarily elected to make the undertaking after he had been duly cautioned.
This, the judge said, was done in the presence of Adeogun-Philips, who also appended his signature on the undertaking made by his client attesting that it was voluntarily made.
He, therefore, ordered the permanent forfeiture of the money to the Federal Government.
The judge held, “I hereby make an order pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act 2016, for final forfeiture of the unclaimed sum of N23, 426, 300.000 and five million United States dollars to the Federal Government finally.
“In respect of the second respondent, learned counsel, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Philips, informed the court that the second respondent filed a counter-affidavit on why the sum of N9.08bn should not be forfeited.
“I have carefully examined the affidavit evidence before the court and I find that the second respondent was duly cautioned in English language before his statement was taken and so, I hold that same was taken without any evidence of inducement.
“On the whole, I am satisfied that all the conditions stated in Section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Related Offence Act was duly fulfilled by the applicant.
“I accordingly make the following orders:
“An order for the final forfeiture of the sums of N23, 426,300.000.00 and $5m being unclaimed properties to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“An order of final forfeiture is also made for the sum of N9.08bn recovered from the second respondent, to the Federal Government of Nigeria. This is my judgment,” he said.
Responding to the judgment, the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, thanked the judge and said the Federal Government would use the money for the benefit of all Nigerians.
Justice Hassan thanked the EFCC counsel in turn for the good work the agency was doing and urged the government to ensure that the money was used for the benefits of all citizens.
The judge also commended Adeogun-Philips for the courage to show up on behalf of his client to claim the money.
“After all, you were the only one who came forward,” the judge said.
Story by The Punch