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CRIME

$40m Jewelry: Court Decides Alison-Madueke’s Fate Sept 10

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Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday fixed September 10 to decide whether to order the final forfeiture of some expensive jewelry valued at about $40 million ,allegedly belonging to a former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke.

Justice Oweibo fixed the date after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and lawyers to the former Minister argued and adopted their written addresses.

Justice Nicholas Oweibo had on July 5 ordered that the seized 2,149 pieces of jewelry and a customised gold iPhone be temporarily forfeited to the federal government after hearing a motion ex-parte application brought before him by the counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo.

In the application, the EFCC says the expensive jewellry comprising wristwatches, necklaces, bracelets, bangles, earrings and more were reasonably suspected to have being acquired with proceeds of unlawful activities of the former minister.

The application, titled action in rem, had Diezani as the only defendant and it was filed pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and other related Offences Act No. 14, 2006.

But Mrs Alison-Madueke had argued in her counter affidavit to the suit that the EFCC violated her fundamental “right to own property and to appropriate them at her discretion” under sections 43 and 44 of the Nigerian Constitution.

In the counter affidavit filed on her behalf by her lawyer, Professor Awa Kalu (SAN), she said the court lacked the jurisdiction to grant the July 5 interim forfeiture order because she had not been charged with any crime or served summons by the EFCC.

Mrs Alison-Madueke also said the temporary forfeiture order was prejudicial because she was denied fair hearing.

At the resumed hearing of the court yesterday, the EFCC appealed to the court to order the permanent forfeiture of the jewellry.

In an affidavit deposed to by Rufai Zaki, an investigator, the EFCC insisted that the items were beyond Diezani’s ‘known and provable lawful income.’

Zaki recalled that Diezani was appointed the Minister of Petroleum Resources on April 12, 2010.

He said findings by the EFCC showed that she started acquiring the jewellry in 2012 from one Bukola Oyewumi of Trinket Box Bespoke Jewelry at Ikeja City Mall, Alausa.

The investigator said the EFCC was in possession of the details of the UBA account through which Diezani received her salary as a minister.

“The respondent did not utilise her salary or any part of her legitimate income to acquire the assets sought to be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria,” Zaki said.

He said a, “damning intelligence report” received by the EFCC led to the search of Diezani’s house at No. 10 Fredrick Chiluba Close, Asokoro, Abuja.

Zaki’s said the EFCC invited Oyewumi and she made a statement, saying she started selling jewelry to Diezani in 2012.

According to Zaki, Oyewumi also made available to the EFCC the invoices issued in respect of the jewellry in which ‘Aunty D’ was written as the buyer.

He said the EFCC also discovered that apart from Oyewumi, Diezani also bought jewellry from one Minal Ratanani of Bella Vista Apartment, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos.

According to him, Ratanani admitted during questioning by the EFCC that Diezani bought jewelry worth $865,300.00 from her over a period and she paid cash.

Counsel for the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, said it was in the best interest of justice for the court to order the permanent forfeiture of the jewellry and the gold iPhone to the Federal Government.

He said the court was empowered to make such forfeiture order under Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offence Act 2006, because “the respondent’s known and provable lawful income is far less than the properties sought to be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

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