OLUGBENGA SOYELE, Lagos
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday stayed further proceeding in a suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seeking the final forfeiture of the sum of $5.8 million allegedly belonging to the former first lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan.
Justice Olatoregun adjourned the case till September 20 to wait the outcome of an appeal filed by Mrs. Jonathan, challenging an interim order of forfeiture earlier granted by her.
The judge took the decision after counsel to the former first lady, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) informed the court that an appeal on the order has been entered at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal.
It will be recalled that the judge had on April 26, issued an interim order for forfeiture of the sum of $5.8 million belonging to Jonathan.
The court had made the order after listening to an ex parte application argued by the counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, seeking a forfeiture of the sum to government, pending the determination of the motion on notice.
Apart from granting the interim order, the court further directed that same be advertised in a national daily, to enable any interested party to appear and show cause why the interim order should not be made final.
However, on May 18, Mr. Ifedapo Adedipe (SAN), who represented Mrs. Jonathan, argued that he needed more time to file necessary responses to the court’s order, adding that EFCC delayed in publishing the notice of the court’s order in a national newspaper.
He subsequently asked for an adjournment which was granted.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Monday, Ozkehome told the court that the appeal and an application for stay proceeding has been entered before the Court of Appeal and July 5 has been fixed for hearing at the appellate court.
The lawyer also submitted that, “since the appeal in this matter has been entered and going by rule five of Court of Appeal procedure rule, this court cease to exercise jurisdiction to proceed in this matter.
“It will amount to an illegal judicial voyage if this court embarks on the proceeding in this matter,” he argued.
Ozekhome further maintained that the lower court cannot decide the merit of an appeal, saying that it would amount to an affront for a lower court to disregard the processes of the appellate court served on it.
After listening to him, the judge in her short ruling held, “as a result of the appeal notice that has been entered, coupled with the hearing notice slated for 5th of July. In view of this, I am inclined to grant an adjournment in this matter for parties to ventilate their views in the appellate court”.
She then adjourned till September 20 to abide by the decision of the appeal court.
The judge had sometimes in November, 2016, granted a forfeiture order of the said sum following an application by the commission.
But Justice Mojisola Olatoregun vacated the order on April 16, 2017 on the ground that the former first lady was not a party in the suit leading to the order made by the court.
However, a week later, the anti-graft agency in a new application, corrected this error, as the name of the former first lady was listed on a new ex-parte application filed by the commission as a party.
In the new application the EFCC asked the court to temporary forfeit the money to the Federal Government pending the determination of the motion on notice.
In an affidavit, the commission averred that it received an intelligence report that funds suspected to be proceeds of crime were warehoused in a Skye Bank account belonging to Jonathan.
It said that the report was analysed and found worthy of investigation, adding that the ex- First Lady opened the account on February 7, 2013.
According to the commission, several cash deposits were made by the ex- First Lady in United States Dollars, through Waripamo Dudafa, a former aide to ex- President Goodluck Jonathan.
The commission averred that another frequent depositor of funds into the said account was one Festus Iyoha, a steward in the State House, Abuja.
The EFCC said that between February 8, 2013 and January 30, 2015, about $6.7 million suspected to be proceeds of crime were deposited into the account.
According to the commission, Jonathan had dissipated the funds, leaving a balance of about $5.7 million.
The commission further averred that if the fund was not forfeited in the interim, it may be fully dissipated by Jonathan.
It added that N2.03 billion, suspected proceeds of crime, was currently on fixed deposit in the account of La Wari Furniture, in addition to a credit balance of about N389 million.
The commission urged the court to grant the application in the interest of justice.