Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Lagos Monday ordered the permanent forfeiture of a $37.5 million mansion on Banana Island, Lagos linked to a former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to the federal government.
The court also ordered that $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70 realised as rents on the property should equally be forfeited to the federal government.
The judge made the orders following a motion on notice argued before him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The EFCC had on July 19, 2017, obtained a court order to temporarily seize the property, Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista Plot 1, Zone N, federal government layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate, which is said to have 24 apartments, 18 flats, and six penthouses.
The court had directed that the temporary forfeiture order be published in a newspaper and then adjourned till Monday for anyone interested in the property and funds to appear to convince the court why they should not be permanently forfeited to the federal government.
When the case came up Monday, the counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Anselem Ozioko, told the court that the publication order had been complied with.
Ozioko noted that despite going the extra mile to personally serve the second and third respondents in the case, a legal practitioner and a company, Rusimpex Limited, they did not show up in court to contest the forfeiture order.
"In summary, it appears as if they are not willing to contest this application," Ozioko said, urging Obiozor to go ahead and order the permanent forfeiture of the property and the funds.
In a short ruling, Obiozor granted the orders.
The judge held: "In the face of the publication, which I find in exhibit B of the affidavit of compliance before me, and there being no responses from any interested party, I have no other option but to grant the orders as prayed."
The EFCC had earlier told the judge that the Banana Island mansion was reasonably suspected to have been acquired with proceeds of unlawful activities by Alison-Madueke.
The anti-graft agency said its investigations revealed that Alison-Madueke purchased the property sometime in 2013 at the price of $37.5million, which she paid in cash.
According to the EFCC, the $37.5 million was moved straight from Alison-Madueke's house in Abuja and paid into the seller's First Bank account in Abuja.
"Nothing could be more suspicious than someone keeping such huge amounts in her apartment. Why was she doing that? To avoid attention.
"We are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt because as of the time this happened, Mrs. Alison-Madueke was still in public service as the Minister of Petroleum Resources," the EFCC lawyer, Ozioko, had told Justice Obiozor.
Listed as respondents in the forfeiture application were Alison-Madueke, a Lagos-based legal practitioner, and a company, Rusimpex Limited.
In a 41-paragraph affidavit attached to the application, an investigative officer with the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, explained that the legal practitioner, in connivance with Alison-Madueke, purposely incorporated the company, Rusimpex Limited, on September 11, 2013, to facilitate the alleged fraud scheme.
According to Bawa, when the lawyer was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he had approached Alison-Madueke for opportunities in the oil and gas industry but the ex-minister told him that being a lawyer, she did not have any such opportunity for him and asked him whether he could in the alternative manage landed properties, an offer which he accepted.
Bawa said the lawyer later registered Rusimpex Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), wherein a lawyer in his law firm, Adetula Ayokunle, and a Russian, Vladmir Jourauleu, were listed as the directors of the company, while the address of the lawyer's law firm in Ikoyi, Lagos was registered as the business address of Rusimpex Limited.
The investigator added that when Ayokunle was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he only appended his signature on the CAC documents at his boss' instruction, while Jourauleu denied knowledge of the company.
The investigator explained: "Sometime in 2013, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Alison-Madueke, invited the lawyer, to her house in Abuja for a meeting where she informed the said lawyer to incorporate a company and use same as a front to manage landed properties on her behalf without using her name in any of the incorporation documents.
"She further directed the lawyer to meet with Mr. Bisi Onasanya, the Group Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc for that purpose.
"Onasanya was invited by the commission and he came and volunteered an extrajudicial statement wherein he stated that he marketed a property at Bella Vista, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, belonging to Mr. Youseff Fattau of Ibatex Nigeria Limited to Alison-Madueke and Alison-Madueke later bought the property from Mr. Youseff Fattau, through her lawyer, (who she introduced to him) and that payment for the said property was made through the Abuja office of First Bank of Nigeria Plc.
"First Bank of Nigeria Plc, through Mr. Barau Muazu, wrote to the commission and also volunteered an extrajudicial statement in writing that they made the payments totalling US37,500,000 to Ibatex Nigeria Limited & YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on behalf of Alison-Madueke and that they collected the entire cash from Alison-Madueke at her residence of No. 10, Fredrick Chiluba Close of Jose Marti Street, Asokor, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on her instruction."