Alleged N15b Fraud: EFCC Kicks as Okorocha Seeks Ex parte Order to Stop Probe
Following an ex parte order stopping the ongoing investigation of the Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas, the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) has petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court Justice Abdul Kafarati.
The anti-graft agency has asked the NJC and Justice Kafarati to review the conduct of the trial judge, Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo of the Federal High Court on alleged obstruction of investigation of some high profile cases.
Justice Taiwo had granted a similar order staying action on the investigation of the Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Also, Saraki’s counsel, Sunday Onubi, before Justice Taiwo has coincidentally appeared for Okorocha to secure a similar ex-parte order.
It was also learnt that a former Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose, obtained an order which delayed his trial.
But the EFCC will today engage in legal battle with Okorocha to vacate the ex parte order when the case comes up.
Okorocha is under investigation for alleged N15 billion fraud, including N8billion London-Paris Club refund; alleged N1.15billion contract scam; alleged diversion of N2billion bailout fund for vote buying during the last general elections; and laundering of about N1.050 billion.
No fewer than six top officials of the state, including the Accountant-General of Imo State, Mr. Uzoho Casmir had been interrogated by the EFCC.
Casmir was before his appointment, a Director of Finance in Okorocha’s administration.
Okorocha rushed to the Federal High Court, seeking a restraining order against the Attorney- General of the Federation (AGF), the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), the State Security Services (SSS), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices & Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau.
But on May 8, 2019, the judge asked the EFCC to stay action on Okorocha’s probe, pending the hearing of his motion on notice.
The order reads in part: ”Upon this motion Ex-parte dated and filed on the 30th day of April, 2019 praying for the following reliefs:
“An order directing the respondents by themselves, their servants, agents, privies or officers to stay all action in connection with the subject matter of this suit pending the hearing and determination of the Originating Motion on notice.
”And for such further or other orders as this honourable court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.
”Upon reading the affidavit in support of the motion ex-parte deposed to by Owelle Rochas Okorocha, male, Nigeria citizen of Imo State Liaison Office Abuja and filed at the court registry.
“And after hearing Sunday Onubi Esq., for the Applicant move in terms of motion paper. It is hereby ordered as follows:
“That an order is hereby made directing the respondents by themselves, their servants, agents, privies or officers to stay action in connection with the subject matter of this suit pending the hearing and determination of the Originating Motion on notice.
”That the respondents shall be served and they shall respond to the originating motion on notice if they so wish within five days of the service on them of the originating processes and the order of this court in compliance with the rules.”
The EFCC, however, picked holes in the decision of the judge to grant an ex-parte order to Okorocha, Saraki and Fayose.
A source said: “The EFCC has decided to protest to the NJC and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to review the conduct of the judge, especially alleged abuse of ex-parte order.
“The EFCC is kicking against the conduct of Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo granting ex parte orders restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from performing its statutory functions.
“We believe the order of Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo was seeking to abort a process that had started. It is really unfortunate that Okorocha, who is enjoying constitutional immunity, will still go to the Federal High Court to halt his investigation.
”We believe it is a well-established legal principle that no court has the power to stop the investigative powers of the EFCC or any agency established under the laws to investigate crimes.
“This principle has received judicial pronouncements in a host of cases which include: ORJI UZOR KALU v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2016) LPELR-40108 (SC) 1 at pp. 15-16 paras. D-B; Attorney General of Anambra STATE v UBA 2005 15 NWLR (PT.947) 44 at 67, and OBIWUSI v EFCC (2018) LPELR-44536 (CA).
“The EFCC is also of the opinion that the conduct of His Lordship, Hon. Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo is contrary to Rule 3.5 of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which states that a Judicial Officer must avoid the power of issuing interim injunctions, ex parte.”
The source said the EFCC was worried that Saraki and Fayose had enjoyed the same ex-parte comfort from the judge.
The source added: “The EFCC is conducting investigation on allegations of corrupt practices by the Senate President, Olubukola Saraki whilst serving as the Executive Governor of Kwara State and also as the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In the course of the investigation, Senator Olubukola Saraki instituted two suits, essentially seeking to restrain the EFCC from performing its statutory duties and the matters were assigned to Hon. Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo.
“Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo made two separate ex parte orders in the said cases on 14th May, 2019 restraining the EFCC from performing its statutory functions of carrying out criminal investigation pending the determination of the motions on notice.
“We want the NJC and the CJ of the Federal High Court to look into judicial impropriety of Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo in matters concerning the EFCC.
“In one of such instances, on the 24th day of June, 2016, the EFCC applied and secured an interim freezing order from the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division wherein his Lordship, Hon. Justice M.B ldris (as he then was) ordered the Manager of Zenith Bank Plc to freeze bank accounts numbers 1003126654 and 9013074033, among others, operated by Mr. Ayodele Fayose pending the investigation and possible prosecution of the criminal case involving the accounts.
“Ayodele Fayose subsequently instituted another suit in su1t no. FHC/AD/15/2016 at the Federal High Court, Ado-Ekiti Judicial Division, praying the court for an order directing the EFCC and Zenith Bank Plc to unfreeze and make the said accounts operational.
”Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo, despite being aware of the pendency of the matter before Honourable Justice M .B Idris and the order of His Learned brother freezing the account, ordered the EFCC and Zenith Bank Plc to unfreeze, unblock and make operational the said accounts thereby constituting himself as an appellate court over the decision of a court of coordinate jurisdiction.
“It was however not surprising that the Court of Appeal, on appeal, held that Honourable Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo ought not to have done what he did.
”Furthermore, when the EFCC was conducting investigation on acts of corruption allegedly perpetrated by some officials of the Ekiti State Government, the Attorney-General of the State filed suit No. FHC/AD/CS/32/2016 against it and other persons. His Lordship, Honourable Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo on the 30th of January, 2018, in his judgment in the case, strangely granted wholesale, all the eight reliefs sought by the plaintiff in the suit which included perpetual injunctions retraining Ekiti State officials, Ekiti State House of Assembly and Banks in which the accounts of the Ekiti State Government were maintained from disclosing or making available to the EFCC any document, financial statement or information relating to the public funds and accounts of Ekiti State. This undoubtedly frustrated our investigation.”
In the letter to Judtice Kafarati, Magu demanded the reassignment of all anti-graft cases before Justice Taiwo.
He also urged the CJ to withdraw cases involving the Dr. Saraki and Okorocha from the judge.
The commission, Magu said, has no confidence in Justice Taiwo to dispense justice impartially.
The petition signed yesterday by Magu, accused the judge of recurring bias.
The petition said in part: “The commission respectively requests Your Lordship to reassign the the above stated cases ( four cases involving Saraki and Okorocha) and all other cases pending before Honourable Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo in which it is involved to other judges of your Lordship’s court.
“This application has become very necessary because of the commission’ slack of confidence in His Lordship’s impartiality to dispense justice in any matter concerning it.
“The commission is conducting investigation on allegations of corrupt practices by the Senate President, Olubukola Abubakar Saraki while he was the Executive Governor of Kwara State and also as the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
“It is also investigating Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the outgoing Executive Governor of Imo State for the same allegations of corrupt practices as the governor of the state.
“Despite the established legal principle which has received judicial pronouncements in a host of cases, particularly the cases of Orji Uzor Kalu v. Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney-General of Anambra State v. UBA, Justice Taiwo in all the four suits by Saraki and Okorocha restrained the commission( among others) from performing its statutory functions of investigating them pending the determination of the Originating Summons on Notice.
“Particularly more worrisome is that the said orders were made ex-parte contrary to the acclaimed judicial deprecation of abuse of ex- parte orders by the courts and Rule 3.5 of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which states that: ‘A judicial officer must avoid the power of issuing interim injunctions, ex parte.”
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