The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has upheld the order made by the Federal High Court in Lagos authorising the temporary forfeiture of the sum of $5, 842, 316.66 and N2, 421, 953, 522.78 linked to the accounts of former first lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan to the Federal Government.
Mrs Jonathan had in her appeal against the order urged the upper court to dismiss the temporary forfeiture order on the basis that sufficient materials were not presented at the lower court.
But in a judgment delivered by Justice Mojeed Owoade, the appellate court held that the appeals lacked merit.
The court upheld the arguments of the counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, and resolved the issues against the appellant.
Justice Owoade also held the constitutionality of Section 17 of the Advance Fee fraud Act, which empowers the EFCC to apply for the forfeiture to the Federal Government of property reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activity.
He stated that the section was not in conflict with Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees fair hearing.
The Justice further stressed that Section 135 of the Evidence Act shifted the responsibility of proving how Mrs. Jonathan got the money to her.
He stated, “The section merely shifts the evidential burden of proof on to the appellant to disprove the facts raised by the respondent in its motion on notice for final forfeiture of the funds.
“To that extent, the provisions of Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud are neither in conflict with Section 135 (1) of the Evidence Act 2011 nor with Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.
“There is nothing unusual or unconstitutional in the Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Related Offences Act.
“The respondent placed sufficient materials before the court below to justify the grant of the ex-parte application.
“Having resolved the two issues in this appeal against the appellant, the appeal lacks merit and is accordingly dismissed. I make no order as to cost,” Justice Owoade held.
LEADERSHIP recalled that Justice Mojisola Olatoregun lower court had, on April 26, 2017, granted the order forfeiting the sum N5, 842, 316.66 traced to Mrs. Jonathan’s account number 211001712 domiciled with Skye Bank Plc on the grounds that the money was reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities.
Justice Olatoregun had also granted an order of interim forfeiture of the sum of N2, 421, 953, 522.78 surreptitiously kept by Jonathan in an account number 202200760 domiciled with Eco Bank Plc in the name of La Wari Furniture and Baths Limited.
Both orders were made by the judge after listening to an ex parte application filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
An operative of the Commission, Musbahu Abubakar, who deposed to the affidavit, had told the court that the former First Lady opened the Skye Bank account on February 7, 2013.
Abubakar had also told Justice Olatoregun that the former First Lady made several United States Dollars cash deposits into the account through a former Special Assistant to former President Jonathan, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, and a State House steward, Festus Iyoha.
While moving the application for the temporary forfeiture of the money, counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, had prayed the court to urgently freeze the account so as to prevent her from moving the funds.
In her ruling, Justice Olatoregun had granted the prayers of the EFCC counsel and directed Jonathan to show cause why the money should not be finally forfeited to the Federal Government.
But dissatisfied with the verdict, the former First Lady, through her team of lawyers led by Mike Ozekhome, SAN, and I.A. Adedipe, approached the appellate court to set aside the order of the lower court.
Jonathan’s lawyers also urged the Court of Appeal to declare as unconstitutional the provisions of Sections 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006.
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