The Federal High Court, Abuja has ordered the anti-corruption agency, ICPC, to immediately unfreeze bank accounts and released seized assets belonging to Blaid Construction Limited and its director, Ochuko Momoh.
This is contained in an enrolled order in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/132/2019 and made available to journalists on Sunday in Abuja by Ade Adedeji, a counsel for both the firm and Momoh.
The presiding judge, Binta Nyako, also held that the anti-corruption body should release all the seized properties of the plaintiffs to them.
The judge said the ICPC went ahead to carry out those actions despite being aware of the plaintiffs’ suit against it taking such steps.
The ICPC was alleged to have overreached itself by directing banks operated by the plaintiffs to freeze their accounts and seized their assets on claims that it was investigating their businesses.
Mrs Nyako has frowned at ICPC’s conduct, upon being told by plaintiffs’ counsel that the defendant failed to comply with the March 5 order of the court directing it to reverse all its actions against the plaintiffs.
The judge insisted that the court’s order must be obeyed by the ICPC.
She said: “what I want you (ICPC) to do is to first, obey the court order and come back to the court later and seek any prayers.
“The defendant is to undo what it has done as of the Feb.6 when the defendant became aware that this matter is before this court, failing which you will be in contempt of the court.
“The plaintiffs are to maintain status quo in respect of the affected accounts. Salaries can be paid out of the accounts, and nothing more,” Nyako held.
Mrs Nyako also noted that the law that allowed the ICPC to freeze suspects’ accounts for up to one year without first, obtaining court’s permission, was a bad law.
On May 2, Mrs Adedeji informed the court that rather than comply with the court’s order, the ICPC filed a notice of appeal against the order of the trial court after it was breached.
The plaintiffs’ counsel said such a step was intended to dilute the power of the court and stall the hearing of his clients’ suit.
“What they did, that is regrettable, is that, after we filed this suit and they were served, they started taking steps to undermine the integrity of this court,” Mr Adedeji said.
Mr Adedeji argued that the mere filing of a notice of appeal by a party no longer translated to staying of proceedings.
The counsel further submitted that ICPC’s action was simply contemptuous as it was aimed at disobeying the order of the court.
“It is important that the court protects its integrity, by insisting that its order must be obeyed before it (ICPC) can be heard. It goes to the issue of the rule of law.
“If the defendant had stopped at what they did before March 5 when the order was made, it would have been understandable.
“It now remains strange in law that they went further to ask other banks, on which the order was not served, to place no debit order on the plaintiffs’ accounts.
“For the past three months, over 270 employees of the plaintiffs, including those engaged in Blaid Farms, have not been paid. The plaintiffs are unable to access their accounts for the purpose of paying staff salaries.
“This is why we are praying this court to insist that the right thing be done, by directing that the order of court, made on March 5 be complied with.
“We apply, in the interest of justice, to direct the ICPC Chairman, who is the alter ego, to obey the court’s order before taking any further steps’’, Adedeji said.
E.C. Otti, counsel to ICPC, however, urged the court to consider Mr Adedeji’s allegations as misleading.
Mr Otti insisted that his client was constrained in obeying the court’s order to release the money in the banks.
He argued that Section 45 of the ICPC Act, 2000 allowed the commission to freeze accounts for 12 months without any court order.
NAN reports that June 10 was fixed for the hearing of the substantive suit.
The plaintiffs had accused the ICPC of engaging in a witch-hunt and therefore challenged its powers, under the ICPC Act, to investigate the dealings of private individuals and entities not connected with public institutions.
The plaintiffs are also challenging ICPC for continuing to hunt them after they secured a judgment against it on November 6, 2017, on a similar matter at the FCT High Court.
Mr Momoh in a supporting affidavit averred that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and ICPC separately investigated the plaintiffs between 2015 and 2017 on the same issues and cleared them of any wrongdoing.