Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Federal High Court in Abuja has warned a company, Wishwich Koncept Limited, against selling an Abuja mansion which is a subject of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s ongoing investigation of allegations of funds diversion and money laundering levelled against a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio.
The judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, gave the warning in his ruling delivered on March 12, 2018.
A copy of the ruling was sighted by our correspondent on Sunday.
The judge had on June 21, 2017 granted an ex parte order permitting the EFCC to seize the house for 60 days.
The EFCC alleged that the property at Plot 2727A, Cadastral Zone, Maitama District, Abuja, was purchased with N470m said to be part of funds diverted from the Akwa Ibom State Government’s account on Akpabio’s directive in 2014.
It said it was investigating Akpabio, the incumbent Minority Leader of the Senate, for diversion of public funds and money laundering.
But the court, in the later ruling delivered on March 12, 2018, upheld Wishwich’s preliminary objection to the EFCC’s fresh ex parte application for forfeiture of the said property.
The judge dismissed the EFCC’s ex parte application on the grounds of the failure of the EFCC to offer any explanation about what it did with the previous forfeiture order granted by the court and why the charges had yet to be filed against Akpabio and other suspects since June 21, 2017 when the initial order was granted.
But the judge rejected the contention by Wishwich’s lawyer, Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN), who had argued that section 29 of the EFCC Act under which the EFCC’s ex parte application was filed, had been struck out by the Court of Appeal in the case of Nwaigwe v. F.R.N. (2009) for being constitutionally invalid.
In dismissing Ogunwumiju’s contention, Justice Dimgba cited a later decision of the Court of Appeal in Esai Dangabar v. FRN (2014) case, upholding the constitutional validity of section 29 of the EFCC Act.
The judge also warned that the undertaking given by Wishwich in the said notice of preliminary objection not to sell the property “before the expiry of a reasonable time to allow investigations to conclude,” “shall attract necessary consequences if breached.”
He held that the “court must present itself as a partner in the war against the scourge of corruption, but within the confines of its judicial neutrality.”
Dimgba also said the court must “be sensitive to the difficulties which the law enforcement agencies face as they tackle corruption.”
Such difficulties, according to the judge included “preserving and ensuring that the assets connected with a suspected criminal activity are preserved while investigation and prosecution is ongoing.”
He said although the EFCC’s application had been dismissed “on account of the fundamental flaws identified, in recognising the peculiar task of the law enforcement agencies,” he referred to the undertaking contained in the affidavit deposed to by Aisha Achimugu Sulaiman in support of the notice of preliminary objection on January 31, 2018.
Sulaiman had said in the affidavit that the company did not sell the property even after the court order granted in June 2017 had expired since August 2017, adding that it did not intend to sell the property “and hereby undertakes not to sell or otherwise dispose of the property throughout the pendency of any investigation by the respondent.”
The judge ruled, “The above undertaking is part of a judicial process filed in court and has been made in the context of judicial proceedings.
“It is one which the court has taken judicial notice of and believe shall attract necessary consequences if breached before the expiry of a reasonable time to allow investigations to conclude, if they have not concluded yet.
“In the final analysis, the notice of preliminary objections succeeds, and the motion ex parte of January 24, 2018 is hereby dismissed.
“But in the interest of justice, the court notes that the voluntary undertaking of the applicant/objector (Wishwich) not to dispose of Plot 2727A, Cadastral Zone A06, Maitama, Abuja, the subject of the motion ex parte, is binding upon it till the expiration of a reasonable time from today to allow investigations to conclude.
“I believe this should serve as justice for all the parties.”
The EFCC had told the court in its fresh and old ex parte motions that the mansion at Plot 2727A, Cadastral Zone, Maitama District, Abuja, was purchased with the proceeds of crimes for which Akpabio was being investigated.
The anti-graft agency alleged that Akpabio, while being governor of Akwa Ibom State, authorised the transfer of the sum of N470m from the state’s account to Felak Concepts Ltd., which bought the house with the money and then transferred the property through a deed of assignment, to Wishwich Koncept Limited.
It told the court that Akpabio allegedly authorised the transfer of various sums of money, apart from the N470m, belonging to Akwa Ibom State Government “on the guise of payment for phantom, consultancy fees for non-existent contracts to the accounts of companies belonging to his agents.”
The EFCC said both Wishwich Koncept Limited and Felak Concepts Ltd. as well as some others including Mrs. Aisha Sulaiman Achimugu, and Altex Eng. Oil & Gas Services Ltd. were among the former governor’s agents who were “acting as fronts for him.”
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