The Federal High Court in Abuja has directed the immediate release of two properties located in the United Kingdom belonging to businessman and CEO of the Aiteo Group, Benedict Peters.
The properties had been the subject of an interim forfeiture order obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) without notice to Peters.
By this decision, the court has upheld his case that the properties wholly belonged to him and not connected to the former Petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke.
The court said the properties were unjustifiably included in a list of assets the anti-graft agency tried to seize.
In suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/228/2016, Benedict Peters and two of his companies, Rosewood Investment Limited and Colinwood Limited, filed applications before Justice Binta Nyako, seeking the discharge of the forfeiture order that she had made in April and June 2016 affecting their properties.
The summary of the case put before the court was that he is the exclusive and beneficial owner of the following properties: Flat 5, Parkview, 83-86 Prince Albert Road, London; Flat 58 Harley House, Marylebone Road, London and 270-17 street, Unit #4204, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, that were wrongly included in a list of 19 properties in the order as allegedly belonging to the former minister.
In an application argued on his behalf by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), the court was urged to vacate the orders because EFCCâ€™s premise for alleging that the properties belonged to Allison-Madueke was manifestly unfounded and not supported by any shred of evidence.
Relying on the contentions that EFCC acted â€œupon gross misstatements, concealment and misrepresentation of facts,â€ sought and obtained ex-parte an interim order of forfeiture of the properties, Olanipekun argued â€œthat the mandatory condition precedent to the grant of the interim forfeiture order was not complied with and due process of law was not followed in obtaining the interim order of forfeitureâ€.
It was further asserted that concealment of accurate, relevant information from the judge when the order was made was fatal to EFCCâ€™s case.
The applications were based also on a number of significant legal arguments demonstrating the unsustainability of the order.
In her judgement, Justice Nyako referred to a decision of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) handed down by Justice Musa in which Peters was a defendant and declared that â€œâ€¦a subsisting judgement of a court of coordinate jurisdiction has found and held inter alia that the property listed as Flat 58 Harley House, Marylebone Road, London, and the property listed as Flat 5, Parkview, 83-86 Prince Albert Road, St Johnâ€™s Wood, London have been subject of the litigation in the suit before the High Court of the FCT, where a judgement of the court dated December 5, 2017 was made which orders have declared that, these said properties amongst others having being legitimately acquired by the Defendant, they cannot be forfeited to the government under any circumstances.â€
Justice Nyako accordingly directed that â€œthe order of interim forfeiture that was made in this case cannot override or supersede an order of final judgement of a court of coordinate jurisdiction.â€
The learned judge then ordered that in that event, those properties could not continue to be restrained by the order EFCC had obtained and consequently directedt he immediate release of the London properties.
However, with regard to the property in the US, the judge took the view that the property would remain affected by the order until further evidence seemingly in the same mould as that produced to the FCT High Court was placed before the court.
The US property was not dealt with in the FCT case.