A Federal High Court in Lagos, on Monday, fixed November 13, to take video evidence in a suit seeking final forfeiture of about 8.4 million dollars, and N7.4 billion found in bank accounts linked to a former First Lady, Patience Jonathan.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had secured an interim order of forfeiture, before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun on April 20, through an exparte application (without notice).
In the suit, EFCC joined as respondents: Patience Jonathan, Globus Integrated Services Ltd, Finchley Top Homes Ltd., Am-Pm Global Network Ltd, Pagmat Oil and Gas Ltd and Magel Resort Ltd and Esther Oba.
When the case was called on Monday, Rotimi Oyedepo announced appearance for the EFCC.
On the other side, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) appeared for the first respondent, Gboyega Oyewole (SAN) appeared for the second respondent, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) appeared for the third to sixth respondents, and Ige Asemudara appeared for the seventh respondent.
After respondent counsel had moved their various motions for regularisation of processes, the court asked the applicant to move his motion for final forfeiture.
Moving his application, Mr Oyedepo informed the Court that the application for final forfeiture was dated May 8, seeking an order of the Court for a final forfeiture of the sums of money listed in the application.
He supported his application with an affidavit deposed to on May 20, by Mr Orji Chukwuma, an operative with the commission, and told the court that he relies on the written averments, as well as exhibits EFCC 12 and 13, in support of his application.
Mr Oydepo told the court that he also relies on the written address attached to the application, and urged the court to grant the application for final forfeiture.
Arguing his processes in opposition dated July 24, Adedipe, counsel to first respondent, urged the court to refuse the application for final forfeiture on the grounds that sufficient facts had not been placed before the court to warrant a final order.
According to Adedipe, the sum total of the applicant’s case is that, it found monies in the account of the first respondent, which it said are reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities.
He argued that same respondent was neither invited by the commission, charged nor even prosecuted.
Mr Adedipe argued that the applicant failed to take these preliminary steps, and instead, headed straight to seek for an order of forfeiture.
He said that such practice fell short of prosecutorial procedures.
He argued that the depositions by the applicant that the funds represented proceeds of unlawful activities, has not been substantiated, as section 36 of the constitution provides that a person shall not be convicted of an offence unless the offence is defined and punishment prescribed.
According to him, there is no crime known as “statutory suspicion” and so, the onus rests on the EFCC to prove that the respondent has such amount of money, and that same was obtained under false pretences or fraud.
He said that although there are depositions that the funds were obtained from “Women for Change” and Bola Shagaya, there are however, no evidences before the court to show that the funds were stolen.
He submitted, that the application against the respondent is vindictive, and urged the court not to allow itself to be used as a vehicle for pressure and injustice.
In the same vein, counsel representing third to sixth respondent, (Ozekhome), argued that going by the provisions of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act, the applicant’s motion for final forfeiture is premature, as the affidavit of the third respondent to show cause, has not been taken.
He argued that it is only when same has been argued, and the court finds no merit in it, that the applicant can be justified and better placed to bring such final application.
According to him, the third to sixth respondents filed affidavits to show cause, deposed to by one Ubong, with exhibit attached labelled F1 to F6.
He said that these exhibits show that the third respondent is a company, shows its certificate of incorporation, its board resolution that Patience Jonathan be made a signatory to it, and bank document evidencing that company’s account are signed by other persons, who are also signatories.
Besides, Mr Ozekhome told the court that the third respondent makes money from selling items such as grocery, drinks, lightening among others, adding that exhibit F5 shows video clip evidence of various outfits, legitimately run by the third respondent.
He urged the court that the said video exhibit be allowed to be displayed in the open court, adding that exhibit F6 also shows manuals, catalogs, and hand bills, which also shows the legitimate ongoing concern of the third respondent.
Ozekhome adopted similar arguments for the fourth, fifth and sixth respondent.
He said: ” it is trite, that whoever alleges, must prove, and on our part, we have proved that we are entitled to this money they seek to forfeit; so, the onus is on them to show otherwise,”
Other respondent counsels aligned themselves with the submissions of the learned silks.
After listening to all parties Justice Olatoregun adjourned the case until November 13 for the respondent to properly apply and exhibit its video evidence before the court.
The EFCC will reply afterwards.