A Federal High Court, Lagos on Wednesday, July 18, 2017 ordered the temporary forfeiture of a property at Banana Island, Lagos allegedly built by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, in 2013 at $37.5 million.
According to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the property, designated as Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate, has 24 apartments, 18 flats and six penthouses.
Apart from the property, the court also ordered the temporary forfeiture of the sums of $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70 said to be part of the rent collected on the property.
The funds were said to have been found in a Zenith Bank Account numbered 1013612486.
Vacation judge, Chuka Obiozor, made the orders following an ex parte application to that effect brought before him by a counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Anselem Ozioko.
Ozioko had told the judge that the EFCC reasonably suspected that the property was acquired with proceeds of alleged unlawful activities of Diezani.
He said investigation by the EFCC revealed that Diezani made the $37.5 million payment for the purchase of the property in cash, adding that the money was moved straight from her 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 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,” Ozioko told Justice Obiozor.
The ex parte application taken before the judge was filed pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, No. 14, 2006 and Section 44(2)(k) of the constitution.
Listed as respondents in the application are 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 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 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 counsel, 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 $37,500,000 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, No. 10, Fredrick Chiluba Close of Jose Martin Street, Asokoro, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on her instruction.”
After listening to the EFCC counsel, Justice Obiozor made an order temporarily seizing the property and the funds.
He directed that the order should be published in a national newspaper and adjourned till August 7, 2017 for anyone interested in the property and funds to appear before him.
By Chinyere Obia