Justice Abdulaziz Anka of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, has refused the application filed by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, challenging the interim forfeiture order pronounced on his property.
Nwaoboshi, through his lawyer, had approached the court to contend an order of temporary forfeiture, obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), against a 12-story building owned by the senator.
EFCC said that the Senator, who is also a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, used part of N1.5 billion fraudulently obtained from the Delta state’s treasury to buy the property at 29 Marina Road, Apapa. Hence, Mr. Ekene Iheanacho, counsel for the anti-graft agency, argued that the building was bought with proceeds of criminal activities.
According to an affidavit sworn to by an operative of EFCC, Mr. Garuba Abubakar, Nwaoboshi got a contract through his company, Bilderberg Enterprises Ltd, to supply new construction equipment for the state Direct Labour Agency at N1.5 billion, but the company allegedly imported and supplied used construction equipment despite receiving full payment.
The commission said that the Senator had no “visible legitimate business venture to generate the amount spent in the purchase of the said property", adding that Nwaoboshi has 20 personal bank accounts and other 20 for companies directly linked to him.
Arguing the case, Iheanacho said the interim forfeiture order granted on April 21 was to preserve the property from being dissipated while the commission carries out its investigations.
EFCC also told the court that contrary to the Senator’s claim that he sold the property to Suiming Ltd, the company belongs to him and that the N1.5 billion was laundered through the Suiming Ltd.
The commission, therefore, prayed the court presided not to discharge its interim order forfeiting the 12-storey building to the Federal Government.
“We urge the court to reject this application and not to discharge the earlier order made by the court,” Iheanacho urged the court.
On the other hand, Nwaoboshi’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) accused the commission of concealing vital facts from the court in obtaining the order hence contravenes the provisions of the EFCC Act.
In addition, he said that the temporary forfeiture order violated the applicant’s right to own property as guaranteed by Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution.
“It becomes dangerous for citizens if the state can seize citizens’ property without a criminal proceeding against them,” he said.
In response, EFCC’s lawyer Mr. Ekene Iheanacho argued that the right to own property was not absolute and that a property can be temporarily forfeited during investigation even if no charge had been filed.
Delivering judgment on Wednesday, Justice Abdulazeez Anka said, “I have listened to the submissions of counsel and taken into account the authorities cited. The action was filled by the EFCC during the pendency of the suit and so the first question is whether the filling of the suit can be described as an abuse of court process. In the current action, the EFCC has put their intention to manifestation and I, therefore, see no abuse of the process”
Justice Anka held that the Court cannot interfere with the investigation process of the EFCC or make pronouncements which will hinder or be perceived as hindering the performance of commission’s statutory duties.
He discountenanced the argument of the applicant and ruled that the application be dismissed.