The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to order the final forfeiture of $5.7million and N2.4billion belonging to former First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan.
It said the money is reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime.
Moving an application for the final forfeiture, the EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, said Mrs Jonathan did not earn the money legitimately.
But, Mrs Jonathan, through her lawyer, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), said the money was not stolen.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun on April 26, 2017 ordered the money’s temporary forfeiture based on an ex-parte application by the EFCC.
Mrs Jonathan appealed, but the Court of Appeal last January 12 upheld the temporary forfeiture.
The Supreme Court on March 15 affirmed the Court of Appeal judgment.
It directed the appellant to return to before Justice Olatoregun to show cause why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
In an affidavit in support of the ex-parte originating summons, an EFCC operative, Musbahu Yahaha Abubakar, said Mrs Jonathan opened a Skye Bank account on February 7, 2013.
“One Dudafa Waripamo Owei, who was the Senior Special Assistant to the former President, was one of the frequent depositors in the account.
“Another frequent cash depositor of funds reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities into the account is one Festus Iyoha, a steward at the State House, Abuja,” the deponent said.
Abubakar said between February 8, 2013 and January 30, 2015, $6,791,599.64 suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities was deposited into the account in cash.
He said Mrs Jonathan dissipated part of the funds, leaving a balance of $5,731,173.55.
“If this funds are not forfeited in the interim, the operator of the account, Mrs Dame Patience Jonathan, will fully dissipate it,” the investigator said.
The commission said the N2.4billion was found in an Ecobank Nigeria Ltd account numbered 2022000760 in the name of La Wari Furniture and Baths Ltd.
The EFCC said the “purported” signatory to the account was one Ada Ifegbu, with a telephone number belonging to one Esther Oba.
The EFCC operative said the N2.4billion “was substantially the naira equivalent of the United States dollars given to one Chima Nwafor John of Ecobank Nigeria Ltd by one Esther Oba at the Aso Rock Villa.”
He said it was John who contracted bureau de change operators to convert the money to naira and deposit it to La Wari Furniture and Baths’s account.
The company is the second respondent.
Urging the court to order the final forfeiture, Oyedepo said: “The $5million was not the first respondent’s legitimate earning.
“She was a public servant and a salary earner. The sums cannot be her legitimate income. We urge the court to agree with us and forfeit the sum to the Federal Government.”
On the N2.4billion, Oyedepo said the opening of the account where the money is domiciled is “shrouded in mystery and fraud”.
He added that a director of La Wari Furniture and Baths, Mrs Oyewole Yemisi, when questioned by EFCC, claimed not to know anything about the company and that her signature was forged.
“She denied being part of the resolution that authorised the opening of the account in which the funds were warehoused. She said she was not part of the company,” Oyedepo said.
Besides, he said those who paid money into the accounts did not buy any goods from the firm.
“The money was not the proceeds of sale of any goods. We urge my Lord to hold that the money is proceeds of crime,” Oyedepo said.
But, Chief Adedipe said there was no evidence that the money sought to be forfeited is proceeds of crime.
He said Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud, which EFCC relied on, is targeted at fraudsters and anticipates “unlawful conduct”.
“It is not the law that if the 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 the wife of 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. She (Mrs Jonathan) stated that governors gave her money. Nobody wrote that she stole their money,” the SAN said.
Besides, Adedipe added that the anti-graft agency did not provide any evidence that her client stole money from government or any individual.
“All EFCC said is that they saw money in her account and assumed it was stolen. They didn’t say from whom. You don’t pick on your political opponents.
“We urge your Lordship to hold that the money is not proceeds of unlawful act. It’s not a crime to be given money,” Adedipe said.
La Wari Furniture and Baths’ counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said the company is an ongoing business concern involved in the import and export of furniture and antiques.
“It is settled law that suspicion no matter how grave can never amount to legal evidence to prove the guilt or culpability of anyone either in criminal or civil proceedings.
“They have not brought anybody to complain that money is missing. It is not a crime that La Wari Furniture and Baths had made money.
“EFCC has not shown any predicate offence committed by La Wari Furniture and Baths. They threw a wide net into the sea looking to catch a fish.
“We urge your Lordship to refuse this application,” Ozekhome prayed.
Justice Olatoregun adjourned until June 24 for judgment.