BY OLUGBENGA SOYELE, Lagos
Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered the temporary forfeiture of a property located at Banana Island, Lagos bought for $37.5million in 2013 by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke to federal government.
Justice Obiozor made the order that the property, designated as Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate, be temporarily forfeited to the government after listening to an ex parte application by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Apart from the property, which has 24 apartments, 18 flats and six penthouses, the judge also ordered the temporary forfeiture of the sums of $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70, said to be part of the rent collected on the property, deposited in a Zenith Bank account numbered 1013612486.
He further directed that the order should be published in a national newspaper.
The ex parte application was filed by the EFCC pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, No. 14, 2006 and Section 44(2)(k) of the constitution.
The commission listed as respondents in the application: Diezani, a legal practitioner, Afamefuna Nwokedi, and a company, Rusimpex Limited.
While arguing the application on Tuesday, the EFCC counsel, Anselem Ozioko had told the court 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 Nwokedi, 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 Nwokedi was questioned by the EFCC, the lawyer 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 Nwokedi 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 Nwokedi’s 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 the 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 totaling 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, Asokoro, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on her instruction.”
After listening to the EFCC lawyer, Justice Obiozor made an order temporarily seizing the property and the funds and adjourned the matter till August 7, 2017 for anyone interested in the property and funds to appear before him.
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BY OLUGBENGA SOYELE, Lagos