A Federal High Court, Abuja, has shifted the hearing of a suit filed by former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, challenging the orders obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for final forfeiture of her seized assets.
The matter was scheduled on number 15 on the cause list, but could not hold because the presiding judge Justice Inyang Ekwo was absent
The court subsequently fixed Dec. 7 for hearing of the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/21/23.
Justice Ekwo had, on June 21, fixed today for hearing of the case after the lawyer who appeared for Alison-Madueke, Mr Benson Igbanoi, and EFCC’s counsel, M.D. Baraya, regularised their processes in the suit.
The EFCC had planned to conduct public sale of all the assets seized for being proceeds of crime as ordered by courts to be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government
The auctioning exercise, conducted on the seized assets believed to include Diezani’s property, started on Jan. 9.
The immediate-past chairman of EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, had revealed that $153 million and over 80 property had been recovered from Alison-Madueke.
She was alleged to have escaped to the United Kingdom (UK) and remained there after her exit from public office as the petroleum minister, an office she held between 2010 and 2015 under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
But the ex-minister, in her suit, sought an order extending the time within which to seek leave to apply to the court for an order to set aside the EFCC’s public notice issued to conduct public sale on her property.
In the motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/21/2023 dated and filed on Jan. 6 by her lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, the former minister sought five orders from the court.
While Alison-Madueke is the applicant, the EFCC is the sole respondent in the suit.
The former minister, who argued that the various orders were made without jurisdiction, said these “ought to be set aside ex debito justitiae.”
She said she was not given fair hearing in all the proceedings leading to the orders.
“The various court orders issued in favour of the respondent and upon which the respondent issued the public notice were issued in breach of the applicant’s right to fair hearing as guaranteed by Section 36 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as altered, and other similar constitutional provisions,” she said.
She argued that she was neither served with the charge sheet and proof of evidence in any of the charges nor any other summons however and whatsoever in respect of the criminal charges pending against her before the court.
She further argued that the courts were misled into making several of the final forfeiture orders against her assets through suppression or non-disclosure of material facts.
“The several applications upon which the courts made the final order of forfeiture against the applicant were obtained upon gross misstatements, misrepresentations, non-disclosure, concealment and suppression of material facts.
”This honourable court has the power to set-aside the same ex debito justitiae, as a void order is as good as if it was never made at all.
“The orders were made without recourse to the constitutional right to fair hearing and right to property accorded the applicant by the constitution.
“The applicant was never served with the processes of court in all the proceedings that led to the order of final forfeiture,” she said, among other grounds given.
But the EFCC, in a counter affidavit deposed to by Rufai Zaki, a detective with the commission, urged the court to dismiss her application.
Mr Zaki, who was a member of the team that investigated a case of criminal conspiracy, official corruption and money laundering against the ex-minister and some other persons involved in the case, said investigation had clearly shown that she was involved in some acts of criminality.
He said Alison-Madueke was therefore charged before the court in charge no: FHC/ABJ/CR/208/2018.
“We hereby rely on the charge FHC/ABJ/CR/208/2018 dated 14th November, 2018 filed before this honourable court and also attached as Exhibit C in the applicant’s affidavit,” he said.
The EFCC operative, who said he had seen the ex-minister’s motion, said most of the depositions were untrue.
He said contrary to her deposition in the affidavit in support, most of the cases which led to the final forfeiture of the contested property “were action in rem, same were heard at various times and determined by this honourable court.”
He said the courts differently ordered the commission to do a newspaper publication inviting parties to show cause why the said property should not be forfeited to the Federal Government, before final orders were made.
Mr Zaki argued that one Nnamdi Awa Kalu represented the ex-minister in reaction to one of the forfeiture applications.
“We humbly rely on the judgment of Hon. Justice I.LN. Oweibo dated 10th September, 2019 shown in Exhibit C of the applicant’s affidavit,” he said.
The officer said contrary to her, the final forfeiture of the assets which were subject of the present application was ordered by the court since 2017 and that this was not set aside or upturned on appeal.
According to him, the properties have been disposed of through due process of law.
The EFCC had equally filed a money laundering suit against the ex-minister.
The suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/208/2018 and brought by the anti-graft lawyer, Farouk Abdullah was presently before Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon.
Justice Olajuwon, on Jan. 24, 2022, issued an arrest warrant against Alison-Madueke, following an oral application by Abdullah that the defendant had refused to come to the country to stand her trial.
The EFCC accused the former minister of fleeing the country for the UK in order to escape justice.
The lawyer, in a document filed along with a motion ex-parte, said it sought to question Diezani, without success, in relation to many allegations against her.
This, he said, includes “her role as the Minister of Petroleum Resources and her role in the award of Strategic Alliance Agreement (SAA) to Septa Energy Limited, Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited and Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited by NNPC.
He said it also wanted Diezani to respond to questions about “her role in the chartering of private jets by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Ministry of Petroleum Resources and her role in the award of contracts by NNPC to Marine and Logistics Services Limited.”
Abdallah said the agency was investigating Diezani’s business relationships with Mr. Donald Amamgbo, Mr. Afam Nwokedi, Chief lkpea Leemon, Miss Olatimbo Bukola Ayinde, Mr Benedict Peters, Christopher Aire, Harcourt Adukeh, Julian Osula, Dauda Lawal, Nnamdi Okonkwo, Mr. Leno Laithan, Sahara Energy Group and Midwestern Oil Limited.
He said Dezani was also required to clear air on “her role in financing the 2015 general elections, particularly the money that were warehoused at Fidelity Bank Plc in 2015 prior to the elections,” adding that it equally wanted the ex-minister to speak on several items, documents and Jewelleries recovered from her house at No: 10, Chiluba Close, off Jose Marti Street, Asokoro, Abuja, and some identified property that were linked to her In Nigeria, UK, United States of America (USA), United Arab Emirate (UAE) and South Africa.
Alison-Madueke is also standing trial before the Westminster Magistrates Court in the UK over an alleged £100,000 bribe.