By Suleiman Dunoma/Abuja,
The Abuja Federal High Court, yesterday, ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to deposit the sum of $9.7 million and £74,000 it seized from a former Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Andrew Yakubu, with the court pending an appeal filed by the Federal Government on a criminal matter against him.
Justice Inyany Ekwo made the order while delivering judgment in a suit filed by Mr. Andrew Yakubu against the EFCC. Justice Ekwo, in a judgment, held that he found out that the EFCC and CBN had not been forthright concerning the whereabouts of the sums for which the suit was centred.
He said: “Therefore, the proper order to make in this case is that which can assure all parties that the sums are in the custody that can make them retrievable by any of the parties entitled, thereto, eventually,” pending the determination of a pending appeal filed by the Federal Government against the decision of a sister court in suit number: FHC/ABJ/CR/43/2017.
The judge held that EFCC was in error when it claimed that it is holding on to the monies based on an interim forfeiture order.
He said the interim order, which the anti graft agency relied on, was not exchangeable with the final forfeiture order.
“Interim forfeiture order can only last for as long as the criminal trial proceedings lasts and terminates where the trial ends and judgement is given. The correct position of the law is that where the person being tried is discharged and acquitted, the EFCC Act does not permit the EFCC to continue to keep the asset or property of the person,” the court held.
It added: “It is when the person is convicted that the EFCC or any other authorised officer shall apply to the court for final forfeiture of the convicted assets and properties acquired or obtained as a result of the crime.”
The court noted that EFCC admitted the case of the plaintiff that they were in possession of $9,773,200.00 and £74,000.00 because of the interim order it obtained on February 13, 2017.
Justice Ekwo held that the order that any sum of money be paid into account maintained by the chief registrar of the court was usually made following the facts and circumstance of the case.
“Such order does not, by any measure, give advantage to any of the parties. It is neither res novo nor new law for the court to make an order for any sum of money in contention between the parties to be kept in a neutral account, pending conclusion of proceedings. Parties who truly seek justice in their matter are more assured where the court makes an order that ensures the neutrality of the custody of the funds which form the rest of the cause of action,” he said.
In addition, the judge said the justice of this case demands that the first and second defendants produce the sums in contention in this case and place the same in the custody that assures everyone of its existence, safekeeping and accessibility by any person so entitled at the conclusion of the appeal.
“It is on this ground and the other grounds, which I have considered in the cause of this judgement, that I find that the plaintiff has made a compelling case on the merit and ought to succeed, and I so hold,” he said.
Yakubu had sued the commission, CBN and the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) as first to third defendants, respectively, over an alleged refusal to release his $9,773,200.00 and £74,000.00 after a court judgment acquitted him of fraud charges.
On February 3, 2017, operatives of the EFCC raided the property of the former NNPC chief in Kaduna and recovered $9.8 million and £74,000 stashed in a fire-proof safe. He was alleged to have omitted the monies from the EFCC asset declaration form given to him to fill in 2015.
The former GMD of the NNPC was arraigned before Justice Ahmed Mohammed of a FHC, on March 16, 2017, on a six-count charge bordering on money laundering and false declaration of assets. However, in March 2022, the judge discharged and acquitted Yakubu of the charges.
Meanwhile, in the originating summons, marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/231/2023, and filed before Justice Ekwo, another judge, Yakubu, through his counsel, Ahmed Raji, asked the court to determine whether the EFCC ought to still have in its custody his seized monies after the judgment. He prayed the court for an order directing the defendants to immediately release the monies to him, pending the determination of the EFCC’s appeal.
Alternatively, Yakubu wants an order directing the defendants to immediately transfer the said monies into an account under the control of the FHC’s chief registrar or into an account to be operated by the chief registrar, the EFCC and him, pending the determination of the appeal.