Mobile phone provider, MTN Communications Limited, has mounted an effort to persuade Justice Abdulaziz Anka of the Federal High Court in Lagos to reverse his ruling that the mobile telephone firm should temporarily forfeit N8 billion to the Federal Government. The funds, located in account number 0012005379 at ECOBANK, are suspected to be the proceeds of unlawful activity.
In an earlier ruling, Justice Anka had approved the government’s seizure of another account, with number 1013607079, containing billions of naira and held at SKYE Bank. Nobody has so far filed court papers to claim ownership of the funds.
An Abuja based lawyer, John Samuel Opeyemi, had filed a lawsuit at a Federal High Court in Lagos, on behalf of the Federal Government, Attorney General of the Federation and an asset recovery agent of the Federal Government of Nigeria, Algaita Group Nigeria Limited, seeking the forfeiture order.
In an affidavit, the Managing Director of Algaita Group Limited, Abdullahi Mohammed Maiturare, stated that the Attorney General of the Federation had appointed his company to track, freeze and recover suspected funds. Mr. Maiturare, a former operative of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), also disclosed that his firm was empowered to remit all recovered funds into a designated bank account held by the Federal Government and in line with the AGF’s directive.
He stated that his company had credible information that certain funds deposited in coded accounts at ECOBANK and SKYE Bank were stolen, diverted and laundered. His firm discovered there was an account at Ecobank with a credit balance of eight billion naira.
According to his affidavit, the funds at the two banks represented unclaimed properties or proceeds of unlawful activity, specifically stealing, diversion and money laundering, by some public officials and their cohorts in the private sector. He told the court that the funds in the suspicious accounts could be dissipated and the account documents tampered with if urgent steps were not taken to obtain certified documents of the accounts and statements.
Justice Anka had granted an order of interim forfeiture to the Federal Government, empowering the government to temporarily take possession of the funds in the two banks’ accounts. He had also ordered that a notice be published in two national daily newspapers inviting anybody with an interest in the frozen funds to come forward within 14 days to show why the court should not issue a final forfeiture order in favor of the Federal Government.
The judge directed the respective branch managers of the respondent banks to immediately stop all outward payments from the subject accounts and submit to the court the respective statements of account with certificates of authentication and other relevant documents as at the date and time of service of the court order on them.
Following the judgment, MTN Communications Limited filed an application urging the court to discharge and set aside the orders made pertaining to the firm’s account at Ecobank Limited. An affidavit sworn to by a legal practitioner, Ibukunoluwa Owa, on behalf of MTN and filed by Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire, stated that the Federal Government and its agents did not comply with the order of the court calling for the publication of the order. MTN’s lawyer claimed that the company’s officials were not aware of the order of the court until Ecobank wrote a letter to the company to alert it.
Mrs. Owa declared that MTN opened the contentious account at Ecobank on October 9, 2006. She added that the firm had operated the account since it was first opened in accordance with banking practices applicable to current accounts held by corporate bodies in Nigeria. According to her, the telephone company’s operations had been hampered by the temporary order freezing its account. She said the firm had found it difficult to utilize the funds in the account to carry out its lawful business. Stating that the funds were not the proceeds of any unlawful activity, Mrs. Owa urged the court to discharge the order.
No date has been fixed for a final ruling.