The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has said that Chief Mike Ozekhome acted contrary to the law when he failed to inform the commission of the seventy-five million naira he claimed was paid to him as a legal fee by the governor of Ekiti state, Ayodele Fayose.
At the resumed hearing today on the application seeking an order to unfreeze the accounts of Ozekhome chambers EFCC counsel Rotimi Oyedepo said it is the law that lawyers must report to the EFCC when they receive payment more than 10 million naira.
Arguing before Justice Abdulazeez Anka of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, Oyedepo said Ozekhome committed an infraction of the law by failing to do so.
Chief Ozekhome in response, argued that is not the place of lawyers to report their payment to the commission but of the bank to alert the EFCC when they receive deposits more than ten million naira.
The Commission had claimed that the N75m paid into the account at Guaranty Trust Bank by Governor Fayose was a proceed of crime and that the senior lawyer reasonably ought to have known that he should not receive such money whether it was a legal fee or not.
Ozekhome argued that as a lawyer, he is entitled to his legal fees, stating that the account through which the money was transferred into his account has been unfrozen by an order of Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court in Ado-Ekiti.
“One of the reasons Justice Taiwo rejected EFCC’s application was that by section 36 of EFCC Act, the name of Fayose was not mentioned in the order earlier granted by Justice Muhammed Idris in Lagos,” he said, urging the court to expunge the paragraphs in the EFCC counter-affidavit that claimed that Fayose’s name was mentioned in the earlier order granted by Justice Idris.
Ozekhome argued that the EFCC suppressed facts before the court when it obtained the order to freeze his account and that the Commission acted in bad faith by filing an ex-parte order without a corresponding motion on notice filed long with it.
Countering, Mr. Oyedepo argued that it is not the law for an applicant who had received an order through an ex-parte motion to file a motion on notice. He said the respondent-applicant got a whiff of the judgment even if it was through social media.
Ozekhome also challenged the competence of the EFCC to have filed the application that was used to secure the freeze order on his account, stating that Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the commission, who signed the application at the time, was not a substantive chairman.
“When the name of Mr. Magu was sent to the Senate for confirmation, it was rejected. Thereby, he cannot either serve as EFCC chairman or acting chairman that allowed him to file this type of suit,” he said.
Ozekhome further claimed that the EFCC cannot sue his chambers because the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) does not regulate his company. He argued that the anti-graft agency needs to show the capacity in which it was suing him.
“The sum of the money paid to Mike Ozhekome Chamber was legal and legitimate. I am handling up to eight cases for Fayose and his allies. The bill of charges of my professional fee is two hundred and fifty million naira, and same was communicated to him in writing, where he said he cannot pay now because his account was frozen but when the order of court unfroze his account, he paid me N75 million out of it.”
In arguing the EFCC’s counter application, Mr. Oyedepo asserted that the Commission has proved that the money paid Chief Ozhekome involved proceeds of crime. He said the commission has shown the court how a former minister for defense, Musiliu Obanikoro, flew millions of naira to Akure and how part of the money was paid into governor Fayose’s account.
He affirmed that Section 34 of the EFCC Act empowers the Commission to freeze any account suspected to have warehoused proceeds of crime.
Mr. Oyedepo said it has been demonstrated that the sum of N3 billion was transferred from the office of National Security Adviser (NSA) to various destinations and that Ozhekome ought to have known that the N75m million paid into his account was from the NSA fraud.
He queried the lawfulness of a legal practitioner being paid with proceeds of crime or an asset under litigation. “Can he be paid with proceeds of crime?” he questioned.
He agreed that Chief Ozekhome has the right to be paid for services rendered but that such payment must not be from proceeds of the offense.
Justice Anka will rule on the application on April 5.