January 20, (THEWILL) – The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has set aside the interim order of forfeiture issued on properties belonging to former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, in his ruling on Friday, held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) concealed facts when it applied for an interim forfeiture of the assets.
Justice Ekwo had on November 4, ordered the temporary seizure of 40 landed property belonging to the embattled senator, who is currently being detained in the United Kingdom over an alleged organ harvesting charge.
EFCC lawyer, Ibrahim Buba, who moved the application for the confiscation of the assets, had said they were suspicious proceeds of crime.
Buba had listed the landed properties to include 15 in Abuja, 10 in Enugu (Mr Ekweremadu’s home state), one in Lagos, two in the United Kingdom, three in the United States, and nine in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The EFCC claimed the assets were allegedly acquired with proceeds of fraud.
While Justice Ekwo had granted the application and ordered the EFCC to, within seven days from the date of the order, publish the interim forfeiture order of the assets in a national daily, the court said, it would enable whoever has an interest in the assets to approach the court and convince it not to issue an order of permanent forfeiture to the Federal Government.
But, Ekweremadu’s oldest child, Lloyd; Anambra Government and a company, Uni-medical Healthcare Limited had, on Dec. 5, appeared in court as parties interested in the seized property.
Lloyd, in a motion on notice, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1242/2022 and filed by Chief Awomolo, prayed the court for an order setting aside the Interim forfeiture order on his father’s property and companies.
Lloyd, in a four-ground argument, said that the facts in support of the EFCC’s ex-parte originating motion “deliberately and fraudulently omitted very critical facts/evidence, which negate the granting of the application.”
He argued that the motion in which the anti-graft agency commenced the action was filed in absolute bad faith.
Ekweremadu, who is currently in detention in London, and his wife, are facing a charge bordering on alleged organ harvesting against David Ukpo, said to be an underage.
However, in his ruling on Friday, Justice Ekwo, said he had found that the application for forfeiture filed by the EFCC was not brought in good faith and ought to be struck out.
He noted that the EFCC was fully aware of the predicament of Ekweremadu and his wife in the United Kingdom (UK) and did not deny writing a letter to the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK to furnish them with information about the lawmaker, but still brought an application seeking an order for them to show cause on the assets to be forfeited.
“I do not think that the desired objective of the legislature in enacting the provision of Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act (AFFOROA), 2006 relied upon by the respondent (EFCC) in initiating the proceeding to obtain an ex-parte order of interim forfeiture order was for the provision to be used in any circumstance where the person affected is not in a position to defend himself or show cause as required,” the Court held.
Justice Ekwo noted that even though the ex-parte order was obtained subject to the provision of Section 17 of the AFFROA 2006, the validity of the order and indeed the entire proceeding leading to the order would be affected by non-disclosure, suppression or misrepresentation of material facts.
Justice Ekwo disagreed with the EFCC that since the Ekweremadus had failed to apply to show cause, the court should go ahead with the order for the final forfeiture of the assets.
“I do not think that this position is correct. The requirement to file affidavit to show cause pursuant to S. 17 of the AFFOROA, 2006 will hold strong in a normal situation where the person required to do so is not fettered by any act, condition or situation that amounts to a deprivation of the right to show cause as required by law.
“In this case, the respondent (EFCC) wrote Exhibit SIE 2 (a letter) to the Crown Prosecution Service in the United Kingdom, which letter was used as evidence to deny Senator Ike Ekweremadu, bail in the criminal proceedings.
“At the same time, the respondent filed an ex-parte application for interim forfeiture, which upon order being made thereon, required Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, to show cause in Nigeria, why an order for final forfeiture ought not to be made.
“I have been asking myself the question repeatedly: How can a citizen of Nigeria, who is incarcerated outside the country to the knowledge of the respondent, be expected to show cause in an action in Nigeria brought by the respondent?
“In other words, how do you help to tie down a man and initiate a fight and demand that the same man you have helped to tie down must defend himself?
“This, in my opinion, is an unconscionable act. The act of the respondent clearly shows that this action was brought in bad faith. In law, bad faith entails dishonesty of belief or purpose,” the judge said.
According to him, on the whole, I find that the application for forfeiture, going by the facts of this case, has not been brought in good faith and ought to be struck out.
He held that Ekweremadu’s son, Llyod, had done the right thing by bringing an application to set aside the proceedings initiated in bad faith and suppression of material facts.
“Once more, this court needs to apply the test of reasonableness of the act of the respondent in initiating the proceeding leading to the interim forfeiture order.
“I have done so and found this applicant ex-parte wanting in that respect. Consequently, I make the following orders:
“An order is hereby made setting aside the interim forfeiture order of the properties of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his companies made by this court on 4th day of November, 2022, upon the ex-parte Originating Motion filed by the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission (EFCC), on 27 July, 2022. The entire proceeding initiated by the respondent is hereby set aside,” Justice Ekwo held.