Alleged N1.5bn Money Laundering: Nwaoboshi Loses Bid To Unfreeze Assets
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has rejected a bid by a serving Senator, Peter Nwaoboshi to have the court vacate the temporary forfeiture order slammed on his property.
Men of the Economic Financial and other Crimes Commission (EFCC) had alleged that Nwaoboshi laundered part of N1.5 billion which he fraudulently obtained from Delta State through a company known as ‘Suiming Nigeria Ltd’.
The anti-graft agency had stated that proceeds for that illegal deal were used for erecting the structures, which have currently under forfeiture by the commission.
Thus, the commission is asking the court presided over by Justice Abdulazeez Anka not to discharge its interim order forfeiting the 12-storey building belonging to the senator which he allegedly bought with the money.
In his ruling on Wednesday, Anka said he had listened to the submissions of counsel and taken into account the authorities cited.
“The action was filled by the EFCC during the pendency of the suit and so, the first question is whether the filling of the suit can be described as an abuse of court process. In the current action, the EFCC has put their intention to manifestation and I, therefore, see no abuse on the process,” he said.
Anka held that the court could not interfere with the investigation process of the EFCC or make pronouncements which would hinder, or be perceived as hindering the performance of its statutory duties.
He also held that the court would avoid making pronouncements which would touch on the root of the main issue or on the validity of any criminal charge.
The judge said, “Such argument is accordingly discountenanced. Investigation activities will not be stopped by the court against the agency, while it is carrying out its statutory duties; this will amount to preempting the investigative powers of the agency. Investigation activities cannot be stopped by the court.”
On the whole, the court held that the application of the applicant had failed and accordingly dismissed it.
“All parties have a right of appeal,” Anka said.
In his argument to discharge the forfeiture order, Nwaoboshi’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), had said that the commission concealed material facts in obtaining the order and did not comply with the EFCC Act.
Besides, he said the temporary forfeiture order violated the applicant’s right to own property as guaranteed by Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution.
“It becomes dangerous for citizens if the state can seize citizens’ property without a criminal proceeding against them,” he said.
The EFCC’s lawyer, Mr Ekene Iheanacho, had argued that the right to own property was not absolute and that a property could be temporarily forfeited during investigation even if no charge had been filed.
“Arrest is not a condition precedent to forfeiture; the law allows that even though the person has not been arrested, the property can still be attached.
“We urge the court to reject this application and not to discharge the earlier order made by the court,” he pleaded.
In a counter -affidavit, an EFCC operative, Mr Garuba Abubakar, averred that Nwaoboshi got a contract through his company, Bilderberg Enterprises Ltd, to supply new construction equipment for the state Direct Labour Agency at N1.5 billion.
He averred that the company allegedly imported and supplied used construction equipment rather than brand new ones after receiving full payment.
EFCC said Nwaoboshi bought the 12-floor building at 29, Marine Road, Apapa, at a cost of N805 million in the name of Golden Touch Construction Projects Ltd with the proceeds from the contract.
The commission said the senator had no “visible legitimate business venture” to generate the amount spent in the purchase of the property.
According to EFCC, Nwaoboshi has 20 bank accounts which he operates in Nigeria, while companies directly linked to him maintain another 20 accounts.
The commission said the interim forfeiture order granted on April 21 was to preserve the property from being dissipated.
EFCC also said contrary to the senator’s claim that he sold the property to Suiming Ltd., the company actually belongs to him.
It, therefore, argued that it was in the interest of justice to refuse the application.
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