The Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered that a $37.5 million mansion on Banana Island in Lagos linked to a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
The court also ordered that the sums of sums of $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70 realised as rents on the property should equally be forfeited to the Federal Government.
The orders were made on Monday, August 4, 2017 by Justice Chuka Obiozor, following a motion on notice argued before him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The anti-graft agency had on July 19, 2017 obtained a court order 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 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 Monday’s proceedings, the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Anselem Ozioko, told Justice Obiozor that the publication order had been complied with.
He, however, noted that despite going the extra length to personally serve the second and third respondent in the case, Afamefuna Nwokedi, and a company, Rusimpex Limited, they did not show up in court to contest the forfeiture order.
“In summary, it appears as if they are not willing to contest this application,” Ozioko said, urging Justice Obiozor to go ahead and order the permanent forfeiture of the property and the funds.
In a short ruling, Justice Obiozor granted the orders.
The judge held, “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.”
The EFCC had earlier told the judge that the Banana Island manson was reasonably suspected to have been acquired with proceeds of unlawful activities by Diezani.
The anti-graft agency said its investigations revealed that Diezani purchased the property sometime in 2013 at the price of $37.5 million, which she paid in cash.
According to the EFCC, the $37.5m was moved straight from Diezani’s house in Abuja and paid into the selller’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 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 EFCC lawyer, Ozioko, had told Justice Obiozor.
Listed as respondents in the forfeiture application were Diezani, a legal practitioner, Afamefuna Nwokedi, and a company, Rusimpex Limited.
In a 41-paragraph affidavit attached to the application, an investigative officer with the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, explained that Nwokedi, in connivance with Diezani, purposely incorporated the company, Rusimpex Limited, on September 11, 2013 to facilitate the alleged fraud scheme.
According to Bawa, when Nwokedi was questioned by the EFCC, the lawyer explained that he had approached Diezani for 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 in the alternative manage landed properties, an offer which Nwokedi accepted.
Bawa said Nwokedi later registered Rusimpex Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission, wherein a lawyer in his law firm, Adetula Ayokunle, and a Russian, Vladmir Jourauleu, were listed as the directors of the company, while the address of Nwokedi’s law firm in Ikoyi, Lagos was registered as the business address of Rusimpex Limited.
The investigator added that when Ayokunle was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he only appended his signature on the CAC documents at his boss’ instruction, while Jourauleu denied knowledge of the company.
The investigator explained, “Sometime in 2013, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, invited Barrister Afamefuna Nwokedi, the Principal Counsel of Stillwaters Law Firm, to her house in Abuja for a meeting where she informed the said Barrister Afamefuna Nwokedi to incorporate a company and use same as a front to manage landed properties on her behalf without using her name in any of the incorporation documents.
“She further directed Mr. Afamefuna Nwokedi to meet with Mr. Bisi Onasanya, the Group Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc for that purpose.
“Mr. Stephen Onasanya was invited by the commission and he came and volunteered an extrajudicial statement wherein he stated that he marketed a property at Bella Vista, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, belonging to Mr. Youseff Fattau of Ibatex Nigeria Limited to Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke later bought the property from Mr. Youseff Fattau, through her lawyer, Mr. Afamefuna Nwokedi (who she introduced to him) and that payment for the said property was made through the Abuja office of First Bank of Nigeria Plc.
“First Bank of Nigeria Plc, through Mr. Barau Muazu, wrote to the commission and also volunteered an extrajudicial statement in writing that they made the payments totalling US37,500,000 to Ibatex Nigeria Limited & YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on behalf of Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and that they collected the entire cash from Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke at her residence of No. 10, Fredrick Chiluba Close of Jose Marti Street, Asokor, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on her instruction.”
By Chinyere Obia