Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court, Lagos yesterday ordered the permanent forfeiture of N9.2 billion and $8.4 million recovered from Dame Patience Jonathan by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Patience is the wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The judge ordered that the funds should be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government. The judgment followed an application by the EFCC, which prayed for the forfeiture on the grounds that the funds were proceeds of crime.
The anti-graft agency consequently secured an interim forfeiture order on April 20, 2018 and the court ordered those interested in the funds to come forward to show why they should not be permanently forfeited.
Mrs. Jonathan, through her counsel, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Gboyega Oyewole (SAN) appeared in court and opposed the application by insisting that the funds were her legitimate income.
The EFCC nonetheless moved an application on October 29, 2018 for the final forfeiture of the sums to the Federal Government.
But yesterday, the judge held that she had “no doubts that all those monies are proceeds of unlawful activities.”
Justice Olatoregun said the respondents “failed to dispel the suspicion created by the movement of the monies within the meaning and contemplation of the Advance Fee Fraud and other related offences Act, coupled with the various extrajudicial statements of the Bureau De Change agents which were not controverted by the respondents.”
The judge held: “In all of this, taking into consideration the overwhelming evidence provided by the applicant, the mode, the circumstances and the manner involved, using fictitious names, etcetera, to lodge monies in her name by named and unnamed individuals and Bureau De’ Change (BDC) operators, I cannot come to a conclusion by any sense of responsibility that these monies are proceeds of lawful activities within the meaning and contemplation of the provisions of the Advance Fee Fraud and other related offences Act 2006; the Money Laundering Act 2004 and the EFCC Act 2004 and other laws enforceable under the EFCC Act 2004.”
The court said the respondents failed to show cause why the monies should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
Apart from Mrs. Jonathan, other respondents were Globus Integrated Services Ltd, Finchley Top Homes Ltd., Am-Pm Global Network Ltd, Pagmat Oil and Gas Ltd, Magel Resort Ltd and Esther Oba.
The EFCC through its counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, said the respondents were not into “any legitimate income-yielding business venture” as to earn such amounts.
It alleged that the firms were incorporated for the purpose of warehousing proceeds of unlawful activities for Mrs. Jonathan.
Oyedepo said: “The depositors into these accounts are domestic staff of State House, Abuja, who were procured by Dudafa Waripamo-Owei (Jonathan’s Special Assistant on Domestic and Household Matters) to deposit the funds sought to be forfeited in a bid to conceal the true origin of the funds.”
But opposing the application, Adedipe, had contended that it was wrong for the EFCC to tag the money as proceeds of crime, when Mrs. Jonathan had not been charged with any crime and when nobody complained that his or her money was missing.
He said, contrary to the claim by the EFCC, the funds were cash gifts, which Mrs. Jonathan received when her husband was in office.
Adedipe said such gifts were normal, pointing out that even the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha, was seeking to build a university.
The lawyer contended that Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud, which EFCC relied upon to seize Mrs. Jonathan’s funds, was only applicable to fraudsters.
“It is not the law that if the EFCC finds money in an account and it doesn’t like the owner’s face, it comes to court and says ‘forfeit it.’
“The government is at liberty to apply for forfeiture but the offence must be stated. The first respondent is a wife to a former deputy governor, governor, vice president and president.
“Even the current occupier of the office of the First Lady wants to build a university. In this country, First Ladies enjoy a lot of goodwill. She (Mrs. Jonathan) stated that governors gave her money. Nobody wrote that she stole their money,” Adedipe argued.
He maintained that there was no justification for the money to be forfeited to the Federal Government, as the EFCC had not proved that Mrs. Jonathan stole money from the government or any individual.
According to him, all that the EFCC said was that they saw money in her account and assumed it was stolen. “They didn’t say from whom. You don’t pick on your political opponents. We urge Your Lordship to hold that the money is not proceeds of unlawful act. It’s not a crime to be given money,” Adedipe said.
Also, Ozekhome, who appeared for La Wari Furniture and Baths, said the money found in his client’s accounts was legitimate. He said La Wari Furniture was into the import and export of furniture and antiques.
His words: “It is settled law that suspicion, no matter how grave, can never amount to legal evidence to prove the guilt or culpability of anyone either in criminal or civil proceedings. They have not brought anybody to complain that money is missing. It is not a crime that La Wari Furniture and Baths had made money.
“The EFCC has not shown any offence committed by La Wari Furniture and Baths. They threw a wide net into the sea looking to catch any fish. We urge your Lordship to refuse this application.”
However, Justice Olatoregun, in her judgment, disagreed with the defence counsel and granted EFCC’s application for final forfeiture.
According to the EFCC discoveries, about 15 account numbers domiciled the funds in various commercial banks in Nigeria in local and foreign currencies.