Monday comment2

 EFCC has powers to dispose forfeited property, writes

 Tony Amokeodo

We wish to state with high sense of responsibility that the editorial opinion of THISDAY of Tuesday, July 23, 2019 over the handover of forfeited property to the Voice of Nigeria (VON) was full of misinformation.

We wish to state that the EFCC will not have bothered to respond to issues concerning its mandate of fighting corruption. But when the narrative on such issues is being slanted as in the editorial under reference, the EFCC is bound to correct the misinformation.

It is instructive to state that the said forfeited property was traced and legally attached from the former Chief of Defence Staff, the late Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, as a proceed of unlawful activity who until his unfortunate death in December 2018, faced a N3.9billion money laundering  charge affecting the property which was filed by the EFCC.

The said property was initially forfeited temporarily to the Federal High Court in Abuja before it was finally forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

We therefore wish to fault the editorial on the following grounds: One, it is a fundamental policy of the government to allocate forfeited properties where suitable for use as office accommodation to federal government Agencies in dire need instead of selling them off.

Two, that there cannot be better way of managing forfeited property than by allocating same to a foremost information disseminating and image laundering agency such as Voice of Nigeria (VON).

Three, the editorial apparently appears to be interested in disposal of such assets in a manner that the very corrupt elements that were seized from will have opportunity to repurchase them.   Four, in dealing with forfeited assets, the EFCC is guided by its enabling act, Executive Order six, rules or regulations that may be formulated by the Attorney General of the Federation in line with section 31(4) of the EFCC Establishment Act and government policies.

Five, the fundamental principle of Executive Order six of 2018 is to restrict dealings on suspicious and illicitly acquired assets and preserve same in accordance with the rule of law.

For the avoidance of doubts, VON first came into occupation of the property as a tenant in line with the interim Court order obtained by the EFCC in the course of prosecution of Alex Badeh and others which stipulates that the property should be managed and any proceeds generated there from should be kept in the Recovery Account of the FGN domiciled with the CBN pending the conclusion of the case.

 When the property was finally forfeited to federal government, the EFCC sought and obtained approval to formally hand over the property to VON for use as its new head office. Suffice to also mention that section 31(2) of the EFCC Act mandates the commission’s secretary to take steps to dispose by sale or otherwise deal with finally forfeited properties.   It is pursuant to this statutory provision that the commission sought approval for properties suitable for office accommodation to be allocated to government agencies in need.

  The editorial opinion got it wrong when it concluded that the steps taken by the EFCC in handing over the said property to VON has made it imperative for the Proceeds of Crime Bill to be signed into law in a veiled reference to Proceeds of Crimes Bill passed by the ninth Assembly sent to the president for assent.

 It is therefore mischievous and utterly untrue to assert as the editorial did that “… There is no Act of National Assembly spelling out, in comprehensive manner, what should be done with recovered properties.” This is because the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004 provides in section 31 (2) that, “Upon receipt of a final order pursuant to this section, the Secretary to the Commission shall take steps to dispose of the property concerned by sale or otherwise and where the property is sold, the proceeds thereof shall be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation”. There are also other relevant sections of the of the act such as sections 26 (2), 28, 29, 32, 33, and 34 that provide adequate provisions on tracing, seizure, attachment, custody and management of interim and finally forfeited properties connected to a prosecution conducted by the commission.

  The EFCC has already commented on the Proceeds of Crime Bill that it will not only cripple the operations and the efficiency of the EFCC and other law enforcement agencies , but will jeopardise the anti-corruption drive of Mr. President and reverse the gains already recorded by this administration.

    A   Proceeds of Crimes Bill that seeks to allow suspects to benefit from the proceeds of his crime by providing for the reasonable expenses for himself, dependants and legal team to be settled from the said proceeds and a bill that will make it very difficult and financially burdensome for the anti-graft agencies to initiate and execute the process leading to asset recovery is not the type of law that this country needs at this time.

  Proceeds of Crimes law should be aimed at strengthening relevant existing legislations and creating institutional framework for the efficient management and disposal of finally forfeited assets rather than seeking to delete critical Sections of the EFCC Act 2004 relating to its power to investigate, prosecute and confiscate assets which contrary to the Financial Action Task Force recommendation which states that the team responsible for asset recovery shall be based in the anti-corruption agency that has the authority to investigate and prosecute or both.

 We further wish to inform Nigerians that the United Kingdom and South Africa which had similar structure as proposed in the bill were forced to disband them and revert to the status quo because they were ineffective, unsustainable and fostered corruption. Therefore, creating another agency in Nigeria as proposed under the Proceeds of Crime Bill will only duplicate the functions of existing agencies with its attendant consequences.

  Amokeodo is the Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission