Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered the final forfeiture of the sums of $8.4 million and N9.2 billion allegedly linked to a former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, to the Federal Government.
The judge made the order today while delivering judgement in a suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seeking final forfeiture of the funds to government.
Joined as respondents in the suit were; Patience Jonathan, five firms and one, Esther Oba.
The firms that were listed as second to sixth respondents were; Globus Integrated Services Limited, Finchley Top Homes Limited, Am-Pm Global Network Limited, Pagmat Oil and Gas Limited and Magel Resort Limited.
The funds were said to be in the custody of Skye Bank Plc, Diamond Bank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank and First Bank Plc.
After granting the interim order, Justice Olatoregun directed parties to give oral evidences in the case saying right of parties cannot be determined by affidavit evidence unless oral testimonies are called with cross-examination.
Upon the conclusion of oral evidences, parties adopted their written addresses and yesterday was fixed for judgement.
In her judgement, Justice Olatoregun agreed with the anti-graft agency that the funds warehoused in accounts of the respondents’ companies were proceeds of unlawful activities.
The court also examined oral evidences presented by the applicant and respondents’ witnesses as well as their affidavits.
On this, the court held that the evidences given by the respondents’ witnesses failed to dispel EFCC’s suspicion that the funds were proceeds of crime.
Justice Olatoregun however dismissed claims by the EFCC that the former first lady had a pet programme known as ‘Women for Change’ which was used to receive and conceal proceeds of crime.
She said: “A lot of heavy weather have been made out of the money belonging to ‘Women for Change’ by both parties but no single account of the NGO is before the court.
“From the affidavit evidence, it can be said that the suspicion raised by the EFCC has nothing to do with the corporate existence of the respondents’ companies. It relates to the funds found in the account of the companies.
“The oral testimonies of the three witnesses who gave evidences for the third to sixth respondents could not explain the source of income of the companies.
“The third to sixth respondents failed to show cause why the money should not be forfeited to the Federal Government”.
In ordering the final forfeiture of the funds, Justice Olatoregun held: “I have no doubt at all that these monies were proceeds of unlawful activities. There were no explanation as to why the funds were paid into the companies’ accounts.
“Taking into consideration the overwhelming evidences provided by the applicant, I cannot come to conclusion with any reasonable sense that the funds were not proceeds of unlawful activities.
“I am satisfied that the respective sums upon which the application for final forfeiture is sought are liable to be forfeited”.
The judge ordered that the N9.2 billion should be paid into an account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) marked; 002008996115 C24, while the $8.4 million should be paid into a Federal Government’s Consolidated Revenue account.
In her defence, Mrs. Jonathan through her lawyer, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) informed the court that the funds the anti-graft agency is seeking to forfeit were not proceeds of crime but gifts and donations from Nigerians.
“It is not the law that if EFCC finds money in an account and it doesn’t like the owner’s face, it comes to court and says ‘forfeit it’.
“The government is at liberty to apply for forfeiture but the offence must be stated.
“The first respondent is a wife to a former deputy governor, governor, Vice President and President.
“Even the current occupier of the office of the First Lady wants to build a university.
“In this country, First Ladies enjoy a lot of goodwill. Mrs Jonathan stated that governors gave her money. Nobody wrote that she stole their money”, the silk said.