Lagos — Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered the permanent forfeiture of a property located at Banana Island, Lagos bought for $37.5m in 2003 by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke to the federal government.
Justice Obiozor, who made the order while ruling on an ex parte application to that effect by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), also ordered that the sums of sums of $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 had earlier had on July 19, 2017 granted the commission a temporarily order to seize the property known as 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 further ordered that the temporary forfeiture of the property, which has 24 apartments, 18 flats and six penthouses be published in a national newspaper to enable anyone interested in the property and funds to appear to convince the court why they should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Monday, the counsel to the EFCC, Anselem Ozioko, told Justice Obiozor that the publication order had been complied with.
Ozioko told the court that despite his efforts to personally serve the respondent in the case, including Rusimpex Limited, they have refused to come to court to show cause why the forfeiture order should not be made final.
The lawyers said it appears as if the respondents are not willing to contest this application, he then urged the judge to go ahead and order the permanent forfeiture of the property and the funds.
Justice Obiozor, in a short ruling, 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 anti-graft agency had earlier told the judge that the anti-graft agency reasonably suspected that the property was acquired with proceeds of alleged unlawful activities of Diezani.
Ozioko also told the court that investigation by the EFCC revealed that Diezani made the $37.5m payment for the purchase of the property in cash, adding that the money was moved straight from her house in Abuja and paid into the seller's First Bank account in Abuja.
The lawyer maintained that, "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 reasonable doubt because as of the time this happened, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke was still in public service as the Minister of Petroleum Resources," he submitted.
In a 41-paragraph affidavit attached to the application and deposed to by an investigative officer with the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, the anti-graft agency averred that the respondents, in connivance with Diezani, purposely incorporated the company, Rusimpex Limited, on September 11, 2013 to facilitate the alleged fraud scheme.
Bawa also alleged that when the respondent was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he had approached Diezani 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 Nwokedi accepted.
Bawa further claimed that the respondent later registered Rusimpex Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission, 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 his law firm in Ikoyi, Lagos was registered as the business address of Rusimpex Limited.
Bawa averred that when Ayokunle was questioned by the EFCC, he claimed that he only appended his signature on the CAC documents at his boss' instruction, while Jourauleu denied knowledge of the company.
He said, "Sometime in 2013, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, invited Barrister Afamefuna Nwokedi, the Principal Counsel of Stillwaters Law Firm, to her house in Abuja for a meeting where she informed the said Barrister Afamefuna Nwokedi 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 Mr. Afamefuna Nwokedi to meet with Mr. Bisi Onasanya, the Group Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc for that purpose.
"Mr. Stephen 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 Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke later bought the property from Mr. Youseff Fattau, through her lawyer, Mr. Afamefuna Nwokedi (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 Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and that they collected the entire cash from Mrs. Diezani 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," Bawa