Following the failure of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to come forward to lay claim to the ownership of $43,449,947; £27,800 and N23,218,000 (N13.3 billion) discovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in an Ikoyi apartment on April 12, 2017, Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court, Lagos, Tuesday ordered the final forfeiture of the cash haul to the federal government.
In his ruling, Justice Hassan upheld the submission by the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedope, and dismissed the application of a private legal practitioner, Olukoya Ogungbeje, which had urged the court to suspend further action in the forfeiture proceedings.
Ogungbeje at the resumed hearing of the case on May 5 had argued that proceedings be suspended pending the outcome of the Osinbajo-led three-man panel constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the claim by the suspended NIA Director General, Ambassador Ayodele Oke, that the money belonged to the agency.
However, at the resumed hearing Tuesday, Justice Hassan dismissed the application for lacking in merit.
A statement by EFCC spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said the judge described the application as totally strange, adding that Ogungbeje had no right to seek a stay of proceedings in the case, since he did not appeal against the interim forfeiture order.
The judge, who noted that Ogungbeje was not a party in the suit filed by the EFCC, described the lawyer as a “meddlesome interloper and a busybody”, adding that his application was strange to law.
Thereafter, Justice Hassan gave an order permanently forfeiting the funds to the federal government.
Justice Hassan was quoted in the statement as saying: “I am in complete agreement with the submission of the learned counsel for the applicant (EFCC) that the property sought to be attached are reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities and that by every standard this huge sum of money is not expected to be kept without going through a designated financial institution; more so, nobody has shown cause why the said sum should not be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria. Having regard to the foregoing, I have no other option but to grant this application as prayed.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, I hereby make the following orders: 1. A final order is made forfeiting the sums of $43,449,947 found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission at Flat 7B of No. 16 Osborne Road, Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, which sum is reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
The judge made the same order in respect of the £27,800 and N23,218,000.
Following the judgment, Idris Mohammed, counsel to the EFCC, urged the court to award a cost of N5 million against Ogungbeje for wasting the time of the court with his application.
However, the judge declined the application.
A day after the discovery of the money, the EFCC had sought for and obtained an interim forfeiture order from the court, despite the admission by Oke that the funds belonged to his agency and had been kept in the apartment for covert projects in Lagos and the South-west.
In granting the interim forfeiture, Justice Hassan had given 14 days for anyone interested in the cash haul to show up before it to show cause why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the federal government.
At the next adjourned date on May 5, counsel to the EFCC, Oyedepo had revealed that Oke’s wife had paid $1.658 million to acquire the Ikoyi flat in Osborne Towers.
Mrs. Oke was said to have made a cash payment of $1.658 million for the purchase of the flat between August 25 and September 3, 2015, in the name of a company, Chobe Ventures Limited.
She and her son, Ayodele Oke Junior, were said to be the directors in the company.
Mrs. Oke was also said to have made the cash payment in tranches of $700,000, $650,000 and $353,700 to a Bureau de Change, Sulah Petroleum and Gas Limited, which later converted the money to N360,000,000 and subsequently paid it to Fine and Country Limited, a real estate firm, for the purchase of the property.
Oyedepo had argued that “the circumstances leading to the discovery of the huge cash stockpiled in Flat 7B, Osborne Towers, leaves no one in doubt that the act was pursuant to an unlawful activity”.
He added: “The very act of making a cash payment of $1.658 million without going through any financial institution by Mrs. Folashade Oke for the acquisition of Flat 7B, Osborne Towers, is a criminal act punishable by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Amendment Act.
“I refer My Lord to Sections 1(a), 16(d) and 16(2) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Amendment Act.”
While urging the court to order the permanent forfeiture of the funds to the federal government, Oyedepo further argued that the property, which was purchased in a criminal manner, made the money recovered therein proceeds of an unlawful act.
He had contended that despite the newspaper advertisement of the initial order of April 13, 2017, temporarily forfeiting the money to the federal government, no one showed up in court to show cause why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the federal government.
Oyedepo had also drawn the attention of the court to the fact that Chobe Ventures Limited, in whose apartment the huge sums were recovered, did not come to court to challenge the forfeiture order, despite being served with the motion on notice at its registered address of No. 18 Ogunmodede Street, off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos.
He added: “Given the failure of Chobe Ventures Limited, in whose custody these properties we are seeking to forfeit were found, to show cause before My Lord why the property (money) should not be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria, Your Lordship should hold that Chobe Ventures Limited has admitted all the facts deposed to in our affidavit and order the final forfeiture of the property to the federal government.”
During the proceedings, however, Ogungbeje had filed an application urging the court to suspend further action in the forfeiture proceedings pending the outcome of the Osinbajo-led three-man panel constituted by the president to investigate the claim by the NIA boss, Oke, that the money belonged to the agency.
But Oyedepo opposed Ogungbeje’s application and urged the court to proceed with the final forfeiture proceedings.
His request was granted by Justice Hassan Tuesday.