A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday ordered permanent forfeiture of a 37.5m dollars sky-scrapper on the highbrow Banana Island, Lagos, belonging to former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, to the Federal Government.
Justice Chuka Obiozor, who gave the ruling, also ordered that the sums of 2.7 million dollars and N84.5 million realised as rents on the property should equally be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Obiozor, a professor of law, gave the orders following a motion on notice argued by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s counsel.
The anti-graft agency had on July 19 obtained a court order to temporarily seize the property located at 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 fixed Aug. 7 to enable 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 hearing of the case on Monday, the EFCC lawyer, Mr Anselem Ozioko, told the court that the publication order had been complied with and said no one had contested the forfeiture order.
He said:“ In summary, it appears as if they are not willing to contest this application.”
Ozioko urged Justice Obiozor to go ahead and order the permanent forfeiture of the property and the funds.
Obiozor, in his ruling, granted the orders sought by the EFCC, saying “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 a cost of 37.5 million dollars for which she paid in cash.
According to the EFCC, the 37.5 million dollars was moved straight from Diezani’s 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.
In a 41-paragraph affidavit attached to the application, an investigative officer with the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, explained that Diezani,in connivance with one Nwokedi purposely incorporated a company — Rusimpex Ltd — on Sept. 11, 2013 to facilitate the alleged fraud scheme.
Bawa said Nwokedi later registered Rusimpex Ltd at the Corporate Affairs Commission, wherein a lawyer in his law firm, and a Russian, Vladmir Jourauleu, were listed as the directors of the company.
The investigator explained further that “sometime in 2013, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, invited Nwokedi to her house in Abuja for a meeting where she informed him 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.
Diezani was also said to have further directed 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 extra-judicial statement wherein he stated that he marketed a property at Bella Vista, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, belonging to Mr Youseff Fattau of Ibatex Nigeria Ltd to Diezani Alison-Madueke and she later bought the property from Mr Youseff Fattau, through Nwokedi (who she introduced to him) and that the payment for the said property was made through the Abuja office of First Bank.
“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 37.5 million dollars to Ibatex Nigeria Ltd and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Ltd on behalf of Diezani Alison-Madueke.
“They collected the entire cash from her at her residence located at No. 10, Fredrick Chiluba Close of Jose Marti Street, Asokoro, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Ltd on her instructions.