THE Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday ordered the final forfeiture of N12.2 billion belonging to former First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan to the Federal Government.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun ruled on an application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), that prayed the court to order the forfeiture of $8.4 million (about N3.030 billion) and N9.2 billion found in her companies’ accounts.
Justice Olatoregun agreed with the EFCC that the money was reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime.
She held that the respondents could not show cause as to why the funds should not be permanently forfeited to the government.
The Justice had on April 20 ordered the funds’ temporary forfeiture and subsequently directed parties to give oral evidence to explain the monies’ source.
Mrs. Jonathan, Globus Integrated Services Ltd, Finchley Top Homes Ltd., Am-Pm Global Network Ltd, Pagmat Oil and Gas Ltd, Magel Resort Ltd and Oba were the respondents.
Details of the forfeited sums showed N1.085 billion and N226.3 million found in Finchley’s Ecobank were account and N39.4 million in its Diamond Bank account, as well as N55.9 million found in Pagmat Oil and Gas’ Diamond Bank account.
Also forfeited is $429,381.87 (about N154.9 million) found in Mrs Jonathan’s sister Esther Oba’s Skye Bank account numbered 211000170, which EFCC said is suspected to be “proceeds of unlawful activity.”
Further breakdown are as follows: $3,645,013.73 found in an account number 2031277178 domiciled with First Bank of Nigeria Ltd; $4,361,393.24, found in Skye Bank Plc account number 1771421299, and N1, 800,494,000 in Fidelity Bank Plc account 4011019539).
Others are N226,376,700.23 (Ecobank Ltd account 1102001996), N1,085,576,947.99 (Ecobank 1102001996), N39,418,712.12 (Diamond Bank 0019213687), N7,213,303.50 (Diamond Bank 0026718889), N55,930,024.50 (Diamond Bank 0026838491)
Also forfeited are N858,923,982.55 (Zenith Bank Plc 1011744356), N1,809,666,494.68 (Fidelity Bank 4011019560), N1,000,494,000.00 (Fidelity Bank 4011019546), N317,397,458.26 (Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc 0016971559), and N1,809,666,494.68 (Fidelity Bank 4011019577).
Others are N174,166,207.06 (Diamond Bank 0024351590), N858,923,982.55 (Zenith Bank 1011744356), N1,809,666,494.68 (Fidelity Bank 4011019560), N1,000,494,000.00 (Fidelity Bank 4011019546), N317,397,458.26 (Stanbic IBTC Bank 0016971559), and N1,809,666,494.68 (Fidelity Bank 4011019577).
The rest are N55, 930,024.50 (Diamond Bank 0026838491), $429,381.87 (Skye Bank Plc 2110003170) and N174, 166,207.06 (Diamond Bank Plc, 0024351590).
EFCC argued that the monies are “reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activity”, adding that the respondents were not into “any legitimate income-yielding business venture” as to earn such amounts.
The commission alleged the firms were incorporated for the purpose of warehousing proceeds of unlawful activities for the former First Lady.
“The depositors into this account are domestic staff of State House, Abuja, who was procured by (an aide) Dudafa Waripamo-Owei to deposit the funds sought to be forfeited in a bid to conceal the true origin of the funds,” the commission said in a supporting affidavit.
But, Mrs Jonathan, through her lawyers Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) and Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), urged the court to refuse EFCC’s application.
Adedipe argued that the agency did not invite Mrs. Jonathan to explain the source of the funds, nor did it charge her with any offence or substantiate the allegation that the funds were proceeds of unlawful activities.
Ozekhome added that the funds were earned legitimately, and that the companies were into legitimate businesses.
The judge allowed the respondents to play video clips of what the companies are involved in.
The first video showed business outlets and products of Finchley Homes Ltd, including interior and exterior home decorations, household utensils, textiles, drinks, noodles, furniture, a warehouse, as well as various pickup vans said to belong to the company.
The second video clip showed the business outfit of the Magel Resort Ltd, Otuoke, which comprised a luxurious hotel equipped IT centres.
Adedipe also exhibited three videos showing activities of the Women for Change Initiative, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) linked to Mrs. Jonathan through which she received donations.
In her testimony, Mrs Jonathan’s younger sister, Esther Oba, claimed the ownership of the money found in her account, explaining that the funds were raised from the estacodes she got when she served as Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Household Administration and the gifts she got when her mother died.
She said: “The account is mine and the money in it is mine. I got $600 per day whenever I travelled.”
Delivering judgment, Justice Olatoregun said she had “no doubts, at all, that these monies are proceeds of unlawful activities.”
She held: “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 extra-judicial statements of the Bureau De Change (BDC) agents which were not controverted by the respondents.
“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 BDCs, 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 Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act 2004 and other laws enforceable under the EFCC Act 2004.”
According to the judge, the respondents failed to show cause why the monies should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Justice Olatoregun added: “A lot of heavy weather has been of the money belonging to ‘Women for Change’ by both parties but no single account of the NGO is before the court.
“From the affidavit evidence, it can be said that the suspicion raised by the EFCC has nothing to do with the corporate existence of the respondents’ companies. It relates to the funds found in the account of the companies.
“The oral testimonies of the three witnesses who gave evidences for the third to sixth respondents could not explain the source of income of the companies.
“The third to sixth respondents failed to show cause why the money should not be forfeited to the Federal Government. I have no doubt at all that these monies were proceeds of unlawful activities. There were no explanations as to why the funds were paid into the companies’ accounts.
“Taking into consideration the overwhelming evidences provided by the applicant, I cannot come to conclusion with any reasonable sense that the funds were not proceeds of unlawful activities.
“I am satisfied that the respective sums upon which the application for final forfeiture is sought are liable to be forfeited”.
The EFCC, in a separate forfeiture proceeding also pending before Justice Olatoregun, is seeking the final forfeiture of another $5.7 million and N2.4 billion belonging to Mrs. Jonathan.
Judgment will be delivered in the case in September, it was learnt.