…Await EFCC Probe on Alleged Diversion of Paris Club Refunds

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EFCC Officials

• Court orders permanent forfeiture of $153m

Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos and Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The state governors have said that they are ready to take on the EFCC, which is investigating them over the alleged diversion of the refunds made to states arising from the excess charges on Paris Club debt.

After a meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja late Thursday night, the governors, under the aegis of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), said they would await the report of the EFCC investigation.

Speculation has been rife that some states allegedly diverted the refunds made to them from the Paris Club debt deductions, prompting the investigation by the EFCC.
Some states were also alleged to have used fictitious consultants to divert some of the money from the Paris Club refunds.
Worried by the development, the presidency reportedly ordered a full-scale investigation into the disbursement of the funds.

But answering questions from State House correspondents after the NGF meeting, chairman of the forum and Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, said the governors were ready for the probe.
He expressed the governors’ support for the present administration’s war against corruption, but said that they would wait for the outcome of the EFCC investigation.

He said: “We discussed the issue of the Paris Club and London Club refunds. We observed that EFCC said it is conducting an investigation. Yes, we support the federal government in the fight against corruption.

“So we are waiting for the EFCC to come up with what they say is the investigation and come up with the result.”
The presidency had ordered the investigation because it was disappointed that what was meant to be a goodwill gesture was compromised by selfish interests.

Top presidency source said that the federal government was worried that its efforts to ensure the settlement of pension and salaries owed to workers in the states were being sabotaged through the likely diversion of the funds earmarked for the purpose.

It expressed its determination to get to the bottom of the matter and consequently ordered the relevant agencies to carry out a full-scale probe to unravel any abuse of the funds.
Since the directive, the governors have reportedly been spoiling for war with the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, over the investigation of the alleged diversion of the funds.

In another development, Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered the permanent forfeiture of the sum of $153.3 million said to be linked to a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.

Alison-Madueke has since denied any link to the funds.
The judge issued the order while delivering judgment in a suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seeking the forfeiture of the funds, claiming they were proceeds of crime.

Following an ex parte application by the EFCC, Justice Hassan on January 6 issued an interim order of forfeiture of the funds to the federal government.
The EFCC had initiated an ex-parte application seeking an interim order for the temporary forfeiture of the sum to the government.

Also joined in the suit was a bank director as the second respondent in the suit.
The court had also issued 14 days to any interested party to appear and prove the legitimacy of the money, failing which the funds would be permanently forfeited to the government.

At the last adjourned date on January 24, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo and Mr. Charles Adeogun, counsel to the EFCC and the second respondent, respectively, had argued their originating processes before the court.
Oyedepo had urged the court to make the interim order absolute and order a final forfeiture of the sum to the federal government.

He had also urged the court to order the forfeiture of other sums to which no claim had been laid.
In his argument, Adeogun urged the court to issue an order directing a refund of the sum of N9.08 billion ($40 million) to the respondent on the grounds that same was obtained by coercion.

He argued that before such forfeiture orders can be made, two essential elements must be satisfied, namely: “That the property in question is unclaimed and that such property or funds form the proceeds of an unlawful act.”
He had urged the court to order a refund of the sum of N9.08 billion to the second respondent on the grounds that same was obtained by coercion.

Delivering his judgment yesterday, Justice Hassan ordered a final forfeiture of the unclaimed sum of N23.4 billion ($108.31 million) and $5 million to the federal government finally.
Hassan held: “I hereby make an order pursuant to Section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2016, for final forfeiture of the unclaimed sum of N23,426,300,000 and $5 million to the federal government finally.

“In respect of the second respondent, learned counsel, Mr. Charles Adeogun informed the court that he (second respondent) filed a counter-affidavit on why the sum of N9.08 billion should not be forfeited.
“I have carefully examined the affidavit evidence before the court and I find that the second respondent was duly cautioned in English language before his statement was taken and so, I hold that same was taken without any evidence of inducement.

“On the whole, I am satisfied that all the conditions stated in Section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Related Offence Act, were duly fulfilled by the applicant.
“I accordingly make the following orders: An order for the final forfeiture of the sum of N23,426,300,000 billion being unclaimed property to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“An order of final forfeiture is also made for the sum of N9.08 billion recovered from the second respondent to the federal government. This is my judgment,” he said
Before the ruling, Adeogun had informed the court of two of his pending motions filed on February 3, first seeking an abridgement of time and secondly for leave to file further affidavits to his counter affidavit.

He had informed the court that the parties were exploring means of reaching an amicable settlement in the matter.
He described it as a common sense approach to resolving the matter, adding that the sum recovered from the second respondent, which was being sought for final forfeiture, was collected from friends and relatives.
He said that the facts were not made available to the court at the last adjourned date, because the instruments with which the funds were paid, were with the commission.

In response, counsel to the EFCC, Oyedepo, informed the court that he was not privy to such settlement options, adding that he was only sent to do the “bidding” of his employers.
He said: “If the intention of the respondent is to keep the application in the court’s file in abeyance, I will then pray the court to strike out the applications relying on the authorities of SIEC Ekiti State vs NCP, Newswatch Communication Ltd vs Attah, and Manuel vs Briggs.

“The application the counsel seeks to put in abeyance, in sum, is intended to arrest the court’s judgment fixed for today.
“In all these authorities, the court had held that it is alien for the court to allow its judgment to be arrested once reserved.

“It is just like a pregnant woman in the delivery room getting an invitation to attend a wedding ceremony; in essence, the court is carrying a pregnancy and so no party should be allowed to terminate it.
“The court had given the parties adequate time for any one to complain of rights infringement and so I urge the court to strike out the application so that the coast can be clear to deliver judgment.”
However, the trial judge, in a short ruling, allowed the second respondent’s counsel to move his application.
After Adeogun had moved the application, the court dismissed it and proceeded to deliver its judgment.