The Federal High Court in Lagos has struck out for lack of diligent prosecution a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by Lagos businessman Kennedy Izuagbe, believed to be a crony of Senate President Bukola Saraki.
This development clears the coast for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to resume its investigation of Mr. Izuagbe, the Managing Director of Carlisle Properties, who is alleged to be fronting for Mr. Saraki.
On four different occasions, particularly on June 2 and 20 this year, when the case was mentioned, the two parties were neither in court nor were they represented by a legal practitioner. Consequently, the presiding judge, Justice Olawale Faji struck out the suit.
Dr. Izuagbe, in a bid to forestall his arrest and detention, had, on behalf of Carlisle and Investment Limited, as well as its directors/shareholders, sued the EFCC at the court.
Joined as co-defendants in the suit are Olaolu Adegbite, the EFCC’s Director of Operations, and the Attorney General of the Federation.
In a statement in support of the application to enforce the fundamental rights of Izuagbe filed before the court by Mahmud Magaji, he stated that he was first invited by the anti-graft agency on 13 November 2014, and that after a series of interrogations he did not hear from EFCC until 29 April 2015 when he was again invited.
The EFCC requested for some documents, including the one relating to how Mr. Saraki purchased his landed properties being managed by Carlisle, and he told them that documents relating to those properties and related information could only be properly addressed by Saraki himself.
Izuagbe said he was surprised to read in the newspapers how the EFCC had been manipulating media perception to the effect that the portfolio of his company could have been derived from the public service proceeds of its beneficial owners.
He further stated that on the 26th of August 2015, while he was in United States on holiday, he was told that the EFCC came to the headquarters of his company with a lorry load of policemen, ransacked the offices and carted away several documents.
Following that development, he said, he approached the court for an order prohibiting the EFCC from further intimidating and harassing him and the firm’s law-abiding staff.
However, in a counter affidavit by Israel Akande, an EFCC legal officer, and filed before the court by Barrister Mutairu Olusesi, the EFCC denied almost all the claims of the applicants contained in Izuagbe’s suit.
Akande affirmed that the commission was investigating a case of money laundering involving Saraki, having discovered several lodgments of cash and monetary instruments by companies linked to the Senate President and regular cash in-flows into his personal account by his aides and others yet to be identified totaling N15 billion and $13 million.
Akande averred further that the situation peaked on the 26th October 2009 when 88 different persons paid sums into Saraki’s account on the same day totaling N80 million, following which an investigation commenced to unravel the sources of the fund.
He pointed out that during that investigation, it was discovered that Izuagbe was the managing Director of Carlisle Properties and Investment, a company that received the funds from several individuals and over 150 companies which were moved to Saraki’s accounts. Furthermore, Izuagbe, acting on behalf of his principal, Saraki, directed that the inflows into the company’s account be wired offshore to the beneficial owners.
Based on the investigation being conducted, and considering the weighty allegations leveled against him, Izuagbe was then invited by the anti-graft agency with a view to obtaining his reaction to the allegations. He made voluntary statement and was asked to report back.
However, during the investigation, he broke news of his mother’s death, and he was allowed to go on compassionate grounds. Thereafter, however, he went incommunicado, his phone no longer being answered, thereby hampering the investigation.
When all efforts to reach him proved abortive, warrant of arrest was secured for his arrest.
Akande averred further that the EFCC is statutorily empowered to cause an investigation to be conducted as to whether any person, corporate body or organization has committed any economic or financial crime.
Consequently, he stated that restraining the agency from further investigations into any such crimes reported to sends the wrong signals to criminally-minded persons who may want to violate the law of the land with impunity and hide under the protection of the court. He thus urged the court to refuse to accede to the request of the applicants.
In the aftermath of the court’s decision to strike out the case, the road is now clear for the EFCC to resume its investigation of Izuagbe.