A Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday ordered the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) to unfreeze bank accounts of Blaid Construction Limited and its Director, Mrs. Ochuko Momoh.
The court also said it was wrong for the commission to freeze the accounts because it was aware of a suit filed by the plaintiff against it (ICPC).
ICPC was said to have directed banks, including Union Bank Plc to freeze accounts owned by Blaid and Mrs. Momoh, and also seized their properties, claiming to be investigating the plaintiffs businesses – actions, which Blaid and Mrs.Momoh challenged with the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/132/2019.
At the resumed hearing in the case on May 2, 2019 Justice Binta Nyako frowned at ICPC’s conduct, upon being told by plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ade Adedeji (SAN) that the defendant (ICPC) failed to comply with the order made by the court on March 5, 2019, directing it to reverse all its actions in respect of the plaintiffs’ assets and accounts.
Adedeji noted that, rather than comply with the court’s order, ICPC filed a notice of appeal, with the intention to tie the court’s hands and stall the hearing of his client’s case.
“What they did, that is regrettable, is that, after we filed this suit and they were served, they started taking steps to undermine the integrity of this court,” Adedeji said.
The counsel argued that the mere filing of a notice of appeal by a party, did not act as a stay of proceedings or an avenue to hide to disobey the order of court.
“It is important that the court protects its integrity, by insisting that its order must be obeyed before it (ICPC) can be heard. It goes to the issue of rule of law.
“If the defendant had stopped at what it did before March 5, 2019 when the order was made, it would have been understandable, but it went further to ask other banks, on which the order were not served, to place no debit order on the plaintiffs’ accounts.
“For the past three months, over 270 employees of the plaintiffs, including those engaged in Blaid Farms, have not been paid. The plaintiffs are unable to access their accounts for the purpose of paying staff salaries.”
Adedeji, who noted that the ICPC Chairman is a Law Professor, accused him of encouraging the disobedience of court’s orders by his agency.
He alleged that the ICPC Chairman “is the one behind these atrocities. That is why we are praying this court to insist that the right thing be done, by directing that the order of court, made on March 5 be complied with.
“We apply, in the interest of justice, to direct the ICPC Chairman, who is the alter ego, to obey the court’s order before taking any further steps.
Responding, ICPC’s lawyer, E.C. Otti denied Adedeji’s allegations and insisted that his client was constrained in obeying the court’s order to release the money in the
Otti argued that Section 45 of the ICPC Act, 2000 allows the commission to freeze accounts for 12 months without any court order.
Ruling, Justice Nyako insisted that the court’s order must be obeyed by the ICPC.
She said: “What I want you (ICPC) to do is to first, obey the court order and come back to the court later and seek any prayers.
“The defendant is to undo what it has done as of February 6, 2019 when the defendant became aware that this matter is before this court, failing which you will be in contempt of the court.
“The plaintiffs are to maintain status quo in respect of the affected accounts. Salaries can be paid out of the accounts, and nothing more,” the judge said.
Justice Nyako noted that the law, that allows the ICPC to freeze suspects’ accounts for a up to one year without first, obtaining court’s permission, is a bad law. She adjourned till June 10 this year, for the hearing of the substantive suit.
In the substantive suit, the plaintiffs, accused the ICPC of engaging in witch-hunt, and queried its powers, under the ICPC Act, to investigate the dealings of private individuals and entities, where they are not public officers or agencies dealing with public or government’s funds or assets.
The plaintiffs, while exhibiting court orders and judgments which they got against ICPC , including one given on November 6, 2017 by Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of the Abuja High Court, wondered why the defendant has continued to disregard the court in relation to their case.
Mrs. Momoh, in a supporting affidavit, noted that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and ICPC separately investigated the plaintiffs between 2015 and 2017 on the same issues and cleared them of any wrong doing, but wondered why the ICPC chose to reopen the case in which a court has given judgment.
“I believe that the continued invitation and attachment of the second plaintiff’s assets for investigation, in respect of the same allegation for which the plaintiffs has been cleared by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the defendant herein (ICPC) is with-hunting,” Mrs. Momoh said.
Justice Adeniyi of the High Court of the FCT in the November 6, 2017 judgment, found among others, that ICPC “concealed facts in obtaining from this court, the interim forfeiture order made on 14/06/2016 against funds in the 2nd respondent’s (Blaid’s) account with Ecobank.”
The judge also noted that Blaid and Mrs.Momoh have satisfactorily explained to the ICPC details of their business activities to which the funds in the firm’s account at Ecobank are related.
He equally found that Blaid’s account with Ecobank was not being used in pursuit of commission of any known offence provided in sections 8 to19 of the ICPC Act or any other law for that matter.
Justice Adeniyi further found that ICPC contravened Section 48(4)of the ICPC Act when it seized Blaid’s account in Ecobank on September 23, 2015, but filed an ex-parte motion for interim order of forfeiture on 06/04/2017 “a period of over two years, in contravention of the provision of Section 48(4) of the ICPC Act, which mandates the commission to releases any seized property, if within a period of 12 months of its seizure, no application is made to the court for forfeiture.”
The judge proceeded to set aside the interim order of forfeiture it made on14/06/2017 against Blaid’s funds in Ecobank.
It was thought that the judgment by Justice Adeniyi and the later intervention of the AGF have put the matter to a final rest, only for the ICPC to come back again this year to seek to want to re-investigate the same case.