Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos has ordered the permanent forfeiture of a $37.5m mansion on Banana Island,Lagos allegedly owned by Diezani Alison-Madueke, former Minister of Petroleum Resources, to the federal government.
The judge gave the judgment on Monday, adding that the rent payments of $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70 collected from the property must also be forfeited to the government.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had earlier told the judge that the Banana Island mansion was reasonably suspected to have been acquired with proceeds of unlawful activities by Mrs. Alison-Madueke.
The anti-graft agency said its investigations revealed that the former petroleum minister purchased the property sometime in 2013 at the price of $37.5m, which she paid in cash.
According to the EFCC, the $37.5m was moved straight from Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s house in Abuja and paid into the seller's First Bank account in Abuja.
“Nothing could be more suspicious than someone keeping such huge amounts in her apartment. Why was she doing that, to avoid attention?
“We are convinced of this beyond reasonable doubt because as of the time this happened, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke was still in public service as the Minister of Petroleum Resources,” the anti-graft agency argued.
The EFCC obtained a court order on July 19 allowing it to temporarily seize the property designated as Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate, which is said to have 24 apartments, 18 flats and six penthouses.
The court had directed that the temporary forfeiture order be published in a newspaper and then adjourned till Monday, August 7, for anyone interested in the property and funds to appear to convince the court why they should not be permanently forfeited to the federal government.
At the resumption of hearing, Anselm Ozioko, counsel to the EFCC, told Justice Obiozor that the agency had complied with the court order given when the temporal forfeiture was granted
However, despite the newspaper publication and motion on notice served on the third and fourth defendants, Afamefuna Nwokedi, and a company, Rusimpex Limited, no one showed up to contend the forfeiture order.
Mr. Ozioko urged Justice Obiozor to proceed with the permanent forfeiture order, stating, “It appears as if they are not willing to contest this application.”
Justice Obiozor, in a short ruling, ruled, “In the face of the publication, which I find in Exhibit B of the affidavit of compliance before me, and there being no responses from any interested party, I have no other option but to grant the orders as prayed.”
He consequently granted the order for permanent forfeiture.
In a 41-paragraph affidavit attached to the application, an investigative officer with the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, explained that Mr. Nwokedi, in connivance with Mrs. Alison-Madueke, purposely incorporated as a company Rusimpex Limited on September 11, 2013 to facilitate the alleged fraud scheme.
According to Mr. Bawa, when Mr. Nwokedi was questioned by the EFCC, the lawyer explained that he had approached Mrs. Alison-Madueke for career opportunities in the oil and gas industry, but the ex-minister told him that being a lawyer, she did not have any such opportunity for him and asked him whether he could manage landed properties instead, an offer which Mr. Nwokedi accepted.
Mr. Bawa said Mr. Nwokedi later registered Rusimpex Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), wherein a lawyer in his law firm, Adetula Ayokunle, and a Russian national, Vladimir Jouravlev, were listed as the directors of the company, while the address of Mr. Nwokedi's law firm in Ikoyi, Lagos was registered as the business address of Rusimpex Limited.
The investigator added that when Mr. Ayokunle was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he only appended his signature on the CAC documents at his boss' instruction, while Jouravlev denied knowledge of the company.