The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) plans to get an ex-parte interim forfeiture order in respect of two Abuja properties allegedly owned by former First Lady, Patience Jonathan has hit a brick wall.
Lawyers to Mrs Jonathan on Thursday, prevented Justice Nmandi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja from hearing the ex-parte motion filed by the EFCC seeking the interim order of forfeiture in relation to the properties located at Plot No. 1960, Cadastral Zone A05, Maitama District, and Plot No. 1350, Cadastral Zone A00, in Abuja.
The court had scheduled the hearing of the motion for yesterday. But lawyers to Mrs Jonathan got wind of the motion before yesterday and promptly filed an application, challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the EFCC’s motion.
At the mention of the case on Thursday, EFCC’s lawyer, Best Ojukwu announced his appearance and made move to introduce his motion when Mrs Jonathan’s lawyers, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) and Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who ordinarily should not have been heard (being proceedings in respect of an ex-parte motion) informed the court about their motion, challenging the court’s power to hear the EFCC’s motion.
An argument later ensued between lawyers on both sides on whether or not the proceedings for Thursday could be conducted in view of the motion by Mrs Jonathan.
Justice Dimgba later intervened and adjourned to November 11 for the hearing of both motions.
The courtroom was packed full with people, mostly women and their children who came to court to support Mrs Jonathan’s position.
The EFCC, in its motion, said the properties were said to be held in the name of Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation, which Mrs Jonathan was said to be one of its “trustees”.
Beyond the prayer for an order for interim forfeiture of the properties, the EFCC also prayed for, “an order stopping any disposal, conveyance, mortgage, lease, sale or alienation or otherwise of the property/asset described in the schedule attached herein.”
It equally sought “an order authorising the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to appoint a competent person(s)/firm to manage the asset/property listed in the schedule herein, temporarily forfeited to the Federal Government pending the conclusion of the investigation.”
The EFCC hinged its motion on three grounds, to the effect that: “The assets, property in respect of which the relief is sought are a subject matter of investigation, enquiry and examination by The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“There is need to preserve the asset/property mentioned in the schedule above herein pending the conclusion of the investigation and possibly determination of criminal charges that may be instituted against the suspect(s).
“If there is any transaction on the property by the suspects by way of disposal, conveyance, mortgage, lease, sale and alienation or otherwise of the asset or properly described in the schedule herein, it will render nugatory any consequential orders which the court may make if the suspect(s) is/are convicted of the offences alleged against her/them after possible due trial.”
In a supporting affidavit deposed to by one of its investigators, Kolawole Mukaila, the EFCC stated that a discreet investigation which commenced in 2016, showed that the plots of land, the subject matter of the case, were allocated to Ariwabai Reachout Foundation, allegedly belonging to Mrs Jonathan and her allies, in 2010 and 2011.
It noted that the foundation had Mrs Jonathan as one of the trustees and signatories of the account. It also stated that payments, transfers and purchases made from the Foundation’s accounts kept with Diamond Bank and Ecobank were “reasonably suspected to be fraudulent” and “an illegal dissipation of the nation’s resources”.
Part of the affidavit reads: “That sometimes in 2016 an alleged case of conspiracy and money laundering was received via intelligence report to the office of the Executive Chairman (of EFCC) and referred to my team for investigation.
“That my team swung into action to conduct a discreet investigation by writing letters to Ecobank, Diamond Bank, Corporate Affairs Commission and the Abuja Geographic Information Systems.
“That, in the course of the investigation, it was revealed from the responses from the Corporate Affairs Commission and Abuja Geographic Information Systems that the plots of land were allocated to Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation belonging to the former First Lady, Patience Jonathan and her allies. Copies of the response from AGIS and Corporate Affairs Commission are hereby attached and marked as Exhibit EFCC 1A – 1C respectively.
“That investigation further reveals the accounts held by Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation had the former First Lady, Patience Jonathan as one of the trustees and signatories of the accounts.
“Copies of the response from Diamond Bank and Ecobank are hereby attached and marked as Exhibits EFCC 2A – 2B respectively.
“That investigation also revealed that the plots of land were allocated in 2010 and the Certificate of Occupancy was issued in 2011.
“That all the above-stated payments/transfers/purchases had no contract award backing it up whatsoever and as such was reasonably suspected to be fraudulent payments and an illegal dissipation of the nation’s resources.”
In her motion, Mrs Jonathan queried the legitimacy of the motion filed by the EFCC and argued that it was intended to frustrate the outcome of a fundamental rights enforcement suit she filed, but which is pending before another judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Mrs Jonathan, sought “an order of this court striking out the respondent’s ex parte originating summons dated September 20, 2017, filed at the registry of this court honourable court on the same date, on the ground that this honourable court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the said application.”
She hinged her motion on the ground that “On September 20, 2017, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission filed an application, which has no parties, described as ‘ex-parte originating summons’ at the registry of this honourable court, praying this court for an order of interim attachment/forfeiture of the assets of the applicant herein located at Plot No. 1960, Cadastral Zone A05, Maitama District, and Plot No. 1350, Cadastral Zone A00, both in Abuja, respectively.”
Mrs Jonathan argued that the said ‘ex parte originating summons’ was not one of the modes of commencement of an action under Order 3, Rule 1 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure Rules) 2009, and that it was not known or provided for by any law or rules of court.
The ex-First Lady added that motion by the EFCC was “an abuse of court process, as same was filed in order to overreach” her fundamental human rights enforcement suit pending before another judge, Justice John Tsoho of the court in suit marked FHC/ABJ/586/2017.