Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: Ibori's U.S.$15 Million Bribe Money Belongs to Delta State, Lawyer Tells Court

A lawyer, TimipaOkponipere on Friday filed a suit before a Federal High Court in Abuja challenging the move of the federal government to take over the $15 million allegedly received from the former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori by a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), MalamNuhuRibadu as bribe .

The lawyer said that the bribe money belongs to the Government and people of Delta State.

This is coming barely four days back when the court ordered that the money be temporary forfeited to the Federal Government and would be finally forfeited if within 14 days after the publication of an advertorial, no one showed up to claim ownership of the money.

But in an application filed yesterday, Okponipere said that he filed the application 'for and on behalf of the Government and people of Delta State.'

It is not clear if he was briefed by the Delta State Government and could also not be ascertained how he came about the mandate to file the suit on behalf of the people of Delta State.

In an affidavit he personally deposed to he said: "In filing this application, I am acting in the public interest.

"I believe as a lawyer, no section of Nigeria should be denied their fundamental rights."

He is asking the court to declare that as of April 25, 2007 when James Ibori allegedly offered the bribe of $15 million to the EFCC, he was still the governor of Delta State with all rights and privileges attached to the office.

He also asked the court to declare that, "the $15million alleged bribe money which has been in custody of the 3rd Respondent (Central Bank of Nigeria) since April, 2007 is property belonging to Government of Delta State and its people."

He urged the court to hold that any application or order granting the money to any other entity other than the Government and people of Delta State would be illegal and of no effect.

He asked the court to order the Attorney General of the Federation, the EFCC and the CBN to return the money to the Government and people of Delta State.

He also asked for the following two declarations: "A declaration that the $15 million alleged bribe money became property of Government and people of Delta State when James Ibori was convicted and sentenced to prison in the United Kingdom.

"A declaration that James Ibori's conviction quashed all previous denials or counter affidavits he may have made to any court or investigating authority including the EFCC regarding the question of whether or not he was the actual giver of the alleged bribe money."

In a 13-ground filed in support of the application, Okponipere said that he was irked by the decision of the Federal Government to take over the money.

He said that Delta people would be prejudiced if the money was allowed to be taken by the Federal Government.

He said that if the court awarded the money to the Federal Government, it would be paid to the Federation Account and would be shared by the 36 states of the Federation.

Justice Gabriel Kolawole had on Tuesday July 24 ordered a temporary forfeiture of $15 Million The court also ordered the commission to publish in a national newspaper the interim order forfeiture to allow anyone who is interested in the property to appear before the court to show cause within 14 days why a final order of forfeiture should not be granted in favour of the Federal Government.

The order was made at the instance of Mr Rotimi Jacobs who filed the ex-parte application on behalf of the EFCC.

The Federal Government, the Attorney General of the Federation and the EFCC were listed as the plaintiffs while the Central Bank of Nigeria was listed as the sole defendant.

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