A Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State has ordered the final forfeiture of assets worth about N3.4 billion linked to a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The judgement delivered by Justice Abdulaziz Anka on Wednesday in a suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission affects assets located in Lagos and Rivers states and Abuja.
It followed the failure of the respondents in the case to submit any counter affidavit to the motion seeking permanent forfeiture of the properties. The respondents were also not in court when the judgement was delivered.
The respondents include Mrs. Alison-Maduekwe (first respondent), Donald Chidi (second respondent), Chapel Properties Limited (third respondent), Blue Nile Estate Limited (fourth respondent), Azinga Meadows Limited (fifth respondent), and Vistapoint Company Limited (sixth respondent).
The lead counsel to EFCC, Anselum Ozioko, had earlier informed the court that the anti-graft agency had already advertised in national newspapers in Nigeria for bids by organisations interested in managing the properties.
Mr. Ozioko had moved a motion on notice dated September 14 and filed on same day for the final forfeiture of the asset and properties attached to the motion and such order as the court may wish to make.
He said the motion was in accordance with section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act 2006 and 44(2B) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended).
The EFCC counsel said the grounds for his request included: “Statutory power of the court to grant the final forfeiture of the said properties, the properties are suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activity and the court earlier granted a temporary forfeiture of the properties”.
The properties include:
1. 21 mixed housing units of eight four-bedroom (en-suite) terrace units,
2. Two three-bedroom (en-suite) penthouse apartments,
3. Six three-bedroom (en-suite) apartments,
4. Two three-bedroom (en-suite) maisonette,
5. Two two-bedroom (en-suite) apartments, and
6. One four-bedroom (en-suite) apartment, all located at 7 Thurnburn Street and 5 Raymond Street Yaba, Lagos and registered in the name of Chapel Properties Limited and were valued at N937 million; and in Heritage Court Estate in Overall Street, Diobu Government Residential Area Phase 1 Extension, Port Harcourt in Rivers State, valued at N928 million.
7. 16 four-bedroom terrace house, and
8. 13 three-bedroom terrace house with a one-room maid’s quarters en-suite per unit; located in Mabushi Gardens Estate Plot 1205 Canasta Zone B06, Abuja and valued at N650 million; and
9. Six flats of 3-bedroom and one boys quarters each, lawn tennis court, gym, matured garden and its appurtenances, located in Plot 808 (135) AWOLOWO Road, Ikoyi Lagos and valued at N805 million.
According to the court documents, all the properties are estimated to be worth N3.4 billion (N3,451,592,199).
The EFCC had presented 13 exhibits, one of which claimed that the First Bank of Nigeria confirmed that it rendered home service to Mrs. Alison-Maduekwe to convert N3,342,307 million to dollars and credit it into First Bank Mortgages Limited Account No 2008133531.
There were also exhibits showing that U.S. dollars were picked up from Mrs. Alison-Maduekwe and converted to Naira after which the fund was transferred to First Bank of Nigeria Mortgages Limited.
The money was said to have been transferred in tranches of $3,342,307 million at the exchange rate of N157 to the dollat on September 29, 2011; $3,321,020 at exchange rate of 157 to the naira March 20, 2012; $1,000,000 at exchange rate of 186.5 to the naira on June 6, 2015; and $2,071,428 at the exchange rate of 156.8 to the naira.
According to the EFCC, the money was used to purchase properties in Lagos, Rivers and Abuja from First bank Mortgage Limited.
It said other tranches of $4,140,127 exchanged at the rate of N157 to the dollat on June 4, 2012 and $2,167,024 at exchange rate of 186.5 to the naira on April 4, 2013 were transferred to First Bank Mortgage Limited for the same purpose.
While delivering Judgement, Justice Anka noted that the respondents were not present in court despite their lawyers being aware of the continuation of hearing in the case on Wednesday.
He said events showed that the respondents seem to have abandoned the case and therefore granted the applicant’s prayers for permanent forfeiture of the asset.
Justice Anka also struck out an application by the defence that the EFCC should be compelled to serve the initial order for temporary forfeiture on the respondents and that the court should withhold any order for permanent forfeiture
Mr. Anka said: “A motion exparte is not binding to be served by the Prosecuting Counsel except otherwise stated by the court’ so the Application is struck out.
“I have also read the prayers of the prosecuting counsel and having gone through all the exhibits presented with the failure of the defense counsels to appear, it shows they have abandoned the case despite being aware of the case for today. The prayers of the Applicants (EFCC) on final forfeiture is hereby granted.”
The first to sixth respondents’ lawyers were not in court when the judgement was delivered.
Mr. Anka had at the last sitting ordered temporary forfeiture of the assets while ordering the EFCC to place adverts for interested firms who would love to manage the properties to signify interest.
He had also directed the EFCC to invite anyone through advertisement to tell the court why the assets should not be forfeited to the federal government.
The court had given the commission 14 days from the date of the last hearing to place the advert.
Mrs. Alison-Maduekwe is said to be receiving treatment for cancer in the United Kingdom where she is also being investigated for money laundering.
The EFCC had earlier told PREMIUM TIMES that occupants of the forfeited buildings who have legal tenancy agreements would be allowed to live there pending the expiration of their tenancy agreements.
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