The Federal High Court in Lagos, on Monday, fixed October 7 for hearing in the forfeiture proceedings concerning $5.78million and N2.4billion seized from some firms linked to a former First Lady, Patience Jonathan.
The judge, T. G Ringim, adjourned the case to hear an application filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the final forfeiture of the funds, the agency’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, said in a statement on Monday.
A non-conviction-based forfeiture proceedings are targeted at funds or assets strongly suspected to be proceeds of crime with the person or entity from whom they are seized having no legitimate explanation for their acquisition.
Mr Wilson said the funds warehoused in Skye Bank Plc and Ecobank Plc had earlier been placed under an interim forfeiture order issued by a now retired judge of the court, Mojisola Olatoregun.
“Following an ex-parte application by the EFCC, Justice Olatoregun had, on April 26, 2017, ordered the temporary forfeiture of the money.
“Dissatisfied with the order of the trial court, Mrs Jonathan alongside other respondents, LA Wari Furniture and Bathes, had first approached the Court of Appeal and subsequently the Supreme Court to set aside the order of the lower court.
“However, both the appellate court and the apex court affirmed the order of Justice Olatoregun,” the statement read in part.
It added that before the conclusion of hearing on the EFCC’s motion for the final forfeiture regarding the funds, Ms Olatoregun retired from the bench in 2019.
As a result of her retirement, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court re-assigned the matter to a new judge, Chuka Obiozor, for hearing.
Mr Obiozor, however, could not hear the case before his transfer to the Benin Division of the Federal High Court.
The case is now before Mr Ringim.
EFCC’s lawyer speaks
At the resumed hearing before Mr Ringim on Monday, EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, gave a brief background of the case.
“This matter is a non-conviction suit instituted before your learned ‘brother’, Justice Olatoregun now retired, where we prayed for the final forfeiture of the sum of $5,781,173.55, warehoused in Skye Bank Plc and N2,421,953,502.78, property of LA Wari Furniture and Bathes in Ecobank Plc.
“It was instituted and an interim order was granted on April 24, 2017, upon which it went up to Supreme Court and an application for its final forfeiture was moved. But the trial judge didn’t deliver the judgment before retiring.
“It was upon that fact that the file was transferred to the registry, where it was re-assigned to the former judge and subsequently your Lordship,” Mr Oyedepo said.
Defence team speaks
Mrs Jonathan’s lawyers, Ifedayo Adedipe, and Gboyega Oyewole, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), said the case was scheduled for a mention because it was its first time of coming up before the new judge.
The firms’ lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, a SAN, who urged the court to adjourn the case, said he intended to file an application challenging the constitutionality of the entire proceedings.
He prayed the court for “a long adjournment” to enable him to file the said application.
In his response, Mr Oyedepo, EFCC’s lawyer, opposed the request.
He said by virtue of the provision of section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, the only step remaining in the proceedings is the hearing of the motion for final forfeiture.
He urged the judge to look at the record of the proceedings of February 17, 2021, to show that the former judge had already adjourned the hearing of the motion for final forfeiture till April 13.
He added that the February 13 proceedings could not hold because of the strike embarked upon by the members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN).
He added that should the court be willing to grant the request for an adjournment, it should be for the motion of final forfeiture.
In his ruling, Mr Ringim adjourned the case till October 7, saying whatever application parties filed would be heard along with the motion for final forfeiture.
He gave Mr Ozekhome, who said he planned to file an application, to do so within 14 days.
He said, “In my humble opinion, there is a procedure to follow in this type of application, which cannot be truncated.
“The court cannot adjourn the matter because of an application, which is yet to be filed.
“However, due to the nature of the application, as hinted by the second respondent, the court will not shut the application out.
“This court will adjourn for the hearing of the motion for final forfeiture that is pending.
“Consequently, the second respondent is hereby ordered to file the application, if any, within 14 days from today, and the plaintiff will have one week to respond.
“It will be heard alongside the motion for final forfeiture.”
Mr Ringim further adjourned the proceedings to October 7, 2021.
Another $15.5 million linked to Mrs Jonathan
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Court of Appeal in Lagos, in May, upturned the conviction of four companies with bank accounts holding $15.5 million that was linked to Mrs Jonathan.
A panel of the Court of Appeal had set aside the conviction of the defendants on the grounds that they were denied fair hearing.
With the decision of the Court of Appeal, the trial of defendants in the case will start afresh at the trial court, lawyers involved in the case had told this newspaper.
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