Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Lagos Wednesday ordered the temporary forfeiture of a property in Banana Island, Lagos bought for $37.5 million by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The former minister was alleged to have bought the property in 2003.
Designated as Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista, Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate, the property has 24 apartments, 18 flats and six penthouses, according to the court papers presented by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Apart from the property, the court also ordered the temporary forfeiture of the sums of $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70, said to be part of the rent collected on the property.
The funds were said to be domiciled in a Zenith Bank, account number 1013612486.
Justice Obiozor gave the order following an ex parte application filed before him by counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Anselem Ozioko.
Ozioko told the judge that the EFCC reasonably suspected that the property was acquired with the proceeds of alleged unlawful activities of the former minister.
The lawyer said investigations by the EFCC revealed that Alison-Madueke made the $37.5 million payment for the purchase of the property in cash, adding that the money was moved straight from her house in Abuja and paid into the sellerâ€™s First Bank account in Abuja.
â€œNothing could be more suspicious than someone keeping such huge amounts in her apartment. Why was she doing that? To avoid attention.
â€œWe are convinced beyond reasonable doubt, because as of the time this happened, Mrs. Alison-Madueke was still in public service as the Minister of Petroleum Resources,â€ Ozioko told the court.
The ex parte application taken before the judge was filed pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act and Section 44(2)(k) of the Nigerian Constitution.
Listed as respondents in the application were Alison-Madueke, a legal practitioner, and a company, Rusimpex Limited.
In a 41-paragraph affidavit attached to the application, an investigative officer with the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, explained that the legal practitioner, in connivance with Alison-Madueke, purposely incorporated the company, Rusimpex Limited, on September 11, 2013 to facilitate the alleged fraud.
According to Bawa, when the lawyer was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he had approached Alison-Madueke for opportunities in the oil and gas industry but the ex-minister told him that being a lawyer, she did not have any such opportunity for him and asked him whether he could in the alternative manage landed properties, an offer which he accepted.
Bawa said the legal practitioner later registered Rusimpex Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), wherein a lawyer in his law firm, Adetula Ayokunle, and a Russian, Vladmir Jourauleu, were listed as the directors of the company, while the address of the legal practitionerâ€™s law firm in Ikoyi, Lagos, was registered as the business address of Rusimpex Limited.
The investigator added that when Ayokunle was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he only appended his signature on the CAC documents on his bossâ€™ instruction, while Jourauleu denied knowledge of the company.
The investigator explained: â€œSometime in 2013, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Alison-Madueke, invited the legal practitioner to her house in Abuja for a meeting where she informed the said lawyer to incorporate a company and use same as a front to manage landed properties on her behalf without using her name in any of the incorporation documents.
â€œShe further directed the lawyer to meet with Mr. Bisi Stephen Onasanya, the former Group Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc for that purpose.
â€œMr. Stephen Onasanya was invited by the commission and he came and volunteered an extrajudicial statement wherein he stated that he marketed a property at Bella Vista, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, belonging to Mr. Youseff Fattau of Ibatex Nigeria Limited to Mrs. Alison-Madueke and Mrs. Alison-Madueke later bought the property from Mr. Youseff Fattau, through her lawyer (who she introduced to him) and that payment for the said property was made through the Abuja office of First Bank of Nigeria Plc.
â€œFirst Bank of Nigeria Plc, through Mr. Barau Muazu, wrote to the commission and also volunteered an extrajudicial statement in writing that they made the payments totalling US$37,500,000 to Ibatex Nigeria Limited & YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on behalf of Mrs. Alison-Madueke and that they collected the entire cash from Mrs. Alison-Madueke at her residence of No. 10, Fredrick Chiluba Close, off Jose Marti Street, Asokoro, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on her instruction.â€
After listening to Ozioko, the EFCC counsel, Justice Obiozor made an order temporarily seizing the property and the funds.
He directed that the order should be published in a national newspaper.
He adjourned till August 7, 2017 for anyone interested in the property and funds to appear before him.