Is former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan the owner of $29 million and N12.7 billion? If yes, why does Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seek to forfeit Jonathan’s $29 million and N12.7 billion? AKEEM NAFIU and TUNDE OYESINA report
For former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, the battle over $29 million and N12.7 billon has begun. While the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is rooting for final forfeiture of the funds, describing it as proceeds of fraud, Patience Jonathan insisted that the funds were from genuine sources.
This has nonetheless brought Patience, wife of a former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, before the law in the last 26 months after her husband relinquished power following his defeat in the 2015 presidential election.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had swooped on Patience, freezing her personal account entitled ‘Patience Ibifaka Jonathan’ domiciled in Skye Bank Plc.
The anti-graft agency had said that the move became necessary due to a prima facie case established against Patience Jonathan. Her prosecution commenced shortly after EFCC said it uncovered a bank account allegedly linked to investigations of an alleged diversion of funds by a former Special Adviser to ex-President Jonathan on Domestic Affairs, Waripamo Owei Dudafa.
The latest in a series of legal tussles between EFCC and Mrs. Jonathan was a temporary forfeiture order placed on N9.2 billion and $8.4 million allegedly linked to the former first lady by Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
The order made on April 20 followed the grant of an ex-parte motion filed by the anti-graft agency which sought the forfeiture of the funds said to be proceeds of unlawful activities.
The funds were said to be in the custody of Skye Bank Plc., Diamond Bank Plc., Stanbic IBTC Bank and First Bank Plc. In granting the motion, Justice Olatoregun directed the anti-graft agency to publish the order in a national daily for the respondents or anyone interested in the funds sought to be forfeited to appear before the court to show cause within two weeks why a final forfeiture should not be made in favour of government. Patience Jonathan, five firms and Esther Oba were listed as respondents in the suit.
The firms listed as second to sixth defendants are; Globus Integrated Services Limited, Finchley Top Homes Limited, Am-Pm Global Network Limited, Pagmat Oil and Gas Limited and Magel Resort Limited.
At the last hearing of the matter, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo informed the court that all the respondents in the matter had filed processes to challenge the interim order of forfeiture placed on the funds.
He later sought for time to respond to the processes. Justice Olatoregun has adjourned the matter to June 18 for the hearing of all motions. An investigator with the EFCC, Huleji Tukura, who deposed to a 15-paragraph affidavit-in-support of the ex-parte motion claimed that investigations by the antigraft agency revealed that the funds found in the bank accounts linked to Patience Jonathan emanated from the coffers of Bayelsa State.
The funds were said to have been moved at a time when the former first lady served as a permanent secretary in one of the ministries in Bayelsa State. In another development, four firms linked to Mrs. Jonathan have challenged their conviction for al-legedly laundering $15.5 million for the former first lady.
The four firms that owned up to have laundered the money through their representatives have filed a motion before Justice Babs Kuewumi of a Federal High Court in Lagos seeking to reverse their conviction over the alleged offence.
The four firms; Pluto Property and Investment Company Ltd, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Limited, Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Avalon Global Property Development Company had on September 15, 2016, following their arraignment by the EFCC pleaded guilty to a 15-count charge of laundering $15.5million for Mrs. Jonathan.
The firms owned up to the alleged offence through their representatives after they were docked before the judge alongside Waripamo Owei-Dudafa, an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku. Upon their guilty plea, the firms were subsequently convicted by Justice Kuewumi.
The judge, however, reserved sentencing till the conclusion of the trial of the firms’ co-accused who had denied the alleged offence. Arguing a motion seeking to reverse the conviction, the firms’ lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) maintained that his clients were not given a fair trial before their conviction because they had no legal representation of their choice.
He said: “Throughout the trial, they did not have any counsel or counsel of their choice. Had the court’s attention been drawn to this fact, my lord would have ordered the prosecution to provide a counsel for the defendants.
I was briefed to represent the firms after its directors pleaded guilty despite not being authorized by the board to do so.” Ozekhome insisted that the firms were convicted in gross violation of the Constitution; a situation which he claimed had occasioned a miscarriage of justice.
The lawyer prayed that the trial be done ‘de novo’ and the previous proceedings declared null, void and unsustainable in law. “The lapse in time between the conviction and expected sentence amounts not only to torture but breach of right to be tried within a reasonable time because there was no sentence, they cannot exercise their right of appeal,” he added.
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo urged the court to refuse the motion for being an abuse of court process. He argued that the filing of the motion by the defendants amounted to asking the judge to revisit his ruling and to assume the position of an appellate court. “Your Lordship is ‘functus officio’.
The firms have a right to appeal their conviction. Re-inviting my lord to set the conviction aside is like asking him to return to Egypt when he has crossed the red sea. This motion is asking my lord to constitute himself into an appellate court.
It is a violent abuse of the process of this court and should be frowned at,” Oyedepo said. He also faulted claims that the directors who pleaded guilty were not authorized to do so, saying evidence from both the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the bank’s accounts showed that the directors were indeed directors of the firms.
Ruling on the motion has been fixed for July 3. In a 15-count amended charge marked, FHC/337C/16, EFCC alleged that the firms, Dudafa, Briggs and Adedamola Bolodeoku, had on November 13, 2013 and May 28, 2015, conspired among themselves to conceal the total sum of $15,591,700.00 which they knew formed part of the proceed of an unlawful act, through various banks in Nigeria.
They were alleged to have committed the fraud with Sombre Omeibi, us still being sought. The offences were said to be contrary to Section 18(a) and 15(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012, and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act. In a related development, EFCC is to amend its statement of defence in a suit filed by Mrs. Jonathan’s over the frozen of $15.5 million she claimed belonged to her.
In the suit, the former first lady is seeking to vacate a no debit order placed on her account containing $15.5 million at Skye bank Plc. Respondents in the suit are; the EFCC, Skye Bank and three firms.
The firms are: Pluto Property and Investment Company Ltd, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Ltd and Transocean Property and Invest-ment Company Ltd. EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, made the disclosure about the planned amendment while crossexamining Dr. Waripamo-Owei Emmanuel Dudafa, an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan on domestic affairs, before Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
“The evidence elicited so far by the witness has necessitated the need for us to amend our statement of defence. Therefore, we will be seeking the court’s leave to carry out the amendment.
This will help us to incorporate further documents that we intend to relying on to prove our case”, the lawyer said. Despite opposition from the plaintiff and two defence lawyers, Justice Idris granted leave to the commission to carry out the amendment. The judge said other parties were also at liberty to file processes for or against the motion. Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to May 22.
The former first lady has accused the anti-graft agency of placing a no debit order on her account containing $15.5 million at Skye bank Plc. without a valid court’s order. Mrs. Jonathan, in the fundamental rights enforcement suit, is seeking an order to de-freeze the accounts where the money is domiciled, so that she can have access to it.
Patience Jonathan’s lawyers are also expected to appear before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos on May 21 to offer more argument against the interim forfeiture of their client’s $5.8 million and N2.5 billion by the judge. The judge had on April 26, 2017, granted an order of interim forfeiture of $5, 842, 316.66 linked to Jonathan’s account number 211001712 domiciled with Skye Bank Plc. on the grounds that the money was reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities.
She also ordered the interim forfeiture of N2, 421, 953, 522.78 surreptitiously kept by Jonathan in an account number 202200760 domiciled with EcoBank Plc. in the name of La Wari Furniture and Baths Limited.
The order was sequel to the granting of an ex-parte motion filed by the anti-graft agency. Dissatisfied with the interim forfeiture order by Justice Olatoregun, the former first lady had lodged an appeal at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal asking that the order be vacated. However, in a judgment delivered on January 12, the appellate court upheld the order of interim forfeiture made by Justice Olatoregun.
The three-man panel of the appellate court presided over by Justice Mojeed A. Owoade upheld the constitutionality of Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006. In an affidavit attached to a motion deposed to by an operative of the commission, Musbahu Abubakar, it was averred that the former first lady opened the Skye Bank account on February 7, 2013.
She was said to have made several deposits in dollars into the account through Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, a former aide to Goodluck Jonathan, and a State House steward, Festus Iyoha. In another development, Justice Hadizat Shagari of the Federal High Court in Lagos had also on November 15, 2017, frozen N350 million found in the Stanbic IBTC Bank account of a company, AMPM Global Network Limited, said to have link to the former first lady.
The Court froze the company’s account following an ex-parte motion by the EFCC. In the motion, the anti-graft agency claimed that its investigation revealed that the N350 million was part of a sum of N1, 206,950,000, being proceeds of Patience’s unlawful enrichment kept in the company’s Diamond Bank account.
The EFCC further stated that it was in its desperate bid to dissipate the money that AM-PM Global Network Limited transferred N350 million out the N1.2 billion into an account it opened at the Walter Carrington, Victoria Island branch of Stanbic IBTC. An operative of the EFCC, Musbau Yahaya, who deposed to a nineparagraph affidavit in support of the ex-parte motion averred that, “I know as a fact and I verily believe that our investigation has revealed the following facts: (a) That between the 20th day of June, 2012 and the 15th day of November, 2013, the respondent (AM-PM Global Network Limited) fraudulently received a total sum of N1,206,950,000 into its Diamond Bank account No. 0026718889, being proceeds of unlawful enrichment derived by Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan, who was a permanent secretary appointed by the Bayelsa State Government.