By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court on Friday ordered the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to unfreeze the account of Pinnacle Communications Ltd domiciled with the Zenith Bank.
The order, which was made by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba during a ruling he delivered in a suit filed by the communication firm, was predicated on the grounds that the anti-graft agency failed to show cause why the accounts of the firm should remain frozen.
The plaintiff had dragged the ICPC to court challenging the freezing of its account vide a post-no-debit restriction on its account in Zenith Bank Plc.
The ICPC had claimed that Pinnacle was fraudulently recommended to the Minister of Information and Culture for the release of N2.5 billion against the guidelines contained in the White Paper.
The commission further alleged that the fund was diverted into private hands, which informed its investigation of the company and subsequent placing of a post-no-debit restriction on the Zenith Bank’s account of Pinnacle.
In his ruling Friday, Justice Dimgba acknowledged that the suit was filed based on the post-no-debit order placed on the account of the plaintiff (Pinnacle).
He also noted that the ICPC has the statutory power to temporarily freeze a suspicious account in accordance with the provisions of sections 44(2)(k) and 43(1) of ICPC Act.
The court further noted that the essence of temporarily freezing an account is to avail an anti-graft agency the needed time to launch investigations and possibly file charges against an account owner.
“It is not for the ICPC (1st defendant) to freeze an account when it has not concluded investigation on any suspicious account or act,” Justice Dimgba said.
The court observed that since “June 14, 2018, when the account was frozen, as at today this ruling is being delivered, six months has elapsed, the account is still being frozen, and no charge filed against the plaintiff”.
Dimgba contended that the word “temporary” as contained in the relevant statute book should be within “a reasonable time” of which six months is.
“I make bold to say that if there is a prima facie case against the plaintiff, I am at loss why the 1st defendant (ICPC) has not filed a criminal charge against the plaintiff.
“This court had shifted this matter severally to give room for the 1st defendant to file charges but no such step was taken.
“The first defendant and indeed other anti-graft agencies should be expedient in their investigation,” the court held, adding that freezing an account indefinitely is like “an act of killing a fly with a sledge hammer”.
Having lifted and unfroze the account of Pinnacle Communications Ltd in Zenith Bank, Justice Dimgba however said ICPC is at liberty to file a charge against the plaintiff if it has reasonable grounds based on the outcome of the investigation.