The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal yesterday okayed the request of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the final forfeiture of the sum of N1.4billion which a firm, Melrose General Services Limited, obtained from the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) through false claims.
Melrose is allegedly linked to outgoing Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, whose two aides – Gbenga Makanjuola and Kolawole Shittu – are being prosecuted by the EFCC in respect of the matter.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos had on April 27, 2018 ordered the final forfeiture of the said N1.4billion to the federal government.
Dissatisfied with the verdict of Justice Olatoregun, Melrose General Services approached the appellate court for redress, asking it to set aside the pronouncement of the lower court.
But in its judgment on the matter yesterday, Justice E. Tobi dismissed the appeal of Melrose (the appellant) and resolved the four contentious issues in favour of the EFCC (the first respondent).
The appellate court further held that Melrose appeal lacked merit and ordered the firm to pay N100,000 cost to the EFCC.
The appellate court also held that Melrose could not show that the said funds were lawfully earned by it.
It added that section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act, 2006, which the EFCC relied on to seek for the forfeiture of the said funds was constitutional.
According to the Appeal Court, Melrose was not denied fair hearing in the matter.
Justice Tijjani Abubakar wrote the lead judgment, Justice E. Tobi delivered the judgment, while Justice O. A. Obaseki-Adejumo concurred with the verdict.
Counsel to the Melrose, Mr. Olawale Akoni (SAN) argued that his client was not given fair hearing during the proceeding at the lower court
But counsel to EFCC, Mr. Ekele Iheanacho, agued to the contrary.
The EFCC had claimed that Melrose obtained N3.5billion from the NGF by making false claims.
Listed as defendants in the final forfeiture application filed before the Federal High Court were Melrose General Services Limited, WASP Networks Limited and Thebe Wellness Services.
The firms were accused of impersonating a consortium of consulting firms engaged by the NGF for the “verification, reconciliation and recovery of over-deductions on Paris and London Club Loans on the accounts of states and local governments between 1995 and 2002.”
But the EFCC insisted that the original firms engaged by the NGF were GSCL Consulting and Bizplus Consulting Services Limited.
A top EFCC’s investigator Usman Zakari, who deposed to affidavit for final forfeiture said that alter ego of Melrose General Services Limited, Robert Mbonu, made a false representation to the NGF causing the forum to pay N3.5bn to his company on December 14, 2016.
Zakari said the money was credited into the Access Bank account of Melrose General Services Limited, adding that Melrose and others dissipated and laundered about N2.3bn out of the money between December 15, 2016, and January 20, 2017, leaving a balance of N1.2bn.