The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is set to file an application in court seeking the total forfeiture of $15,591,700, belonging to Dame Patience Jonathan, the wife of the immediate past President, Goodluck Jonathan.
The money is currently lodged in the Skye Bank account of four companies: Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development & Investment Company Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Avalon Global Property Development Company Limited.
The EFCC had frozen the four accounts, which were linked to a former Special Adviser to the President on Domestic Affairs, Waripamowei Dudafa.
However, Jonathan’s wife had claimed in a sworn affidavit that the money in the four accounts belonged to her even though there is no paper evidence to establish a link between her and the companies.
She also urged the court to compel the EFCC to lift the restriction on the accounts.
In a sudden twist, however, the anti-graft agency arraigned the four companies on Thursday and the companies pleaded guilty to money laundering charges.
A senior EFCC official told one of our correspondents that the anti-graft agency would subsequently apply for the total forfeiture of the funds.
He said, “The four companies, in whose accounts the monies were lodged, have pleaded guilty to money laundering. We are therefore filing an application, seeking the complete and total forfeiture of the money to the Federal Government.
“The $15,591,700 should go (be deposited in) into the Treasury Single Account of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
On Thursday, the four accused companies pleaded guilty to conspiring with Dudafa; a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs; and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku, to launder the sum of $15, 591,700 on or about November 13, 2013.
The EFCC, while arraigning the seven accused persons before a Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday, admitted to the court that the $15.6m were proceeds of theft.
Though Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty to the amended 15 counts pressed against them by the EFCC, the four companies, charged along with them, owned up to committing the offence.
The guilty plea was entered on behalf of Pluto, Seagate, Trans Ocean and Avalon by one Friday Davies, Agbo Baro, Bioghowri Frederick and Taiwo Ebenezer, respectively.
The EFCC had since frozen the $15.6m found in the four companies’ accounts with Skye Bank Plc by placing a ‘No Debit Order’ on the four accounts.
But Patience had filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit against the EFCC and the bank, claiming that the money, which the EFCC said were proceeds of theft, belonged to her.
Patience is also seeking damages against Skye Bank in the sum of N200m for what she termed a violation of her right to own personal property under Section 44 of the 1999 Constitution.
But Patience’s suit against the EFCC and Skye Bank has yet to be heard by any judge.
However, the EFCC arraigned Dudafa, Briggs, Bolodeoku and the four companies before Justice Babs Kuewumi on Thursday for money laundering and conspiring to retain proceeds of theft.
The EFCC also alleged that the seven accused persons conspired to forge Skye Bank mandate cards, purporting that they were signed by Friday Davies, Kola Fredrick, Taiwo Ebenezer and Agbo Baro, to prejudice Skye Bank in their bid to launder the $15.6m.
They were also accused of forging a Wema Bank Corporate Account mandate card, purporting that it was signed by Taiwo Ebenezer and Chima John to prejudice Wema Bank.
The EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, told Justice Kuewumi that Dufada, Briggs, Bolodeoku and the four companies acted contrary to Section 1(2)(c) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap. M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
But while the four companies pleaded guilty, Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku maintained that they did not commit the offence.
Following the guilt plea by the companies, Oyedepo told the court that he would like to review the facts of the case by tendering documents to prove the offence, for the court to decide their fate but Justice Kuewumi said he would only entertain the review of facts at a later date.
The lawyers, who appeared for Briggs and Bolodeoku, Tochukwu Onuike and Joseph Okobiemen, respectively, subsequently informed the court that they had filed applications for the bail of their clients, urging Justice Kuewumi to admit their clients to bail in liberal terms.
However, Dudafa’s lawyer, Gboyega Oyewole, said he did not file any application for his client’s bail in the hope that Justice Kuewumi would allow the accused person to continue to enjoy a N500m bail granted him in another criminal case before Justice Mohammed Idris of the same court.
Justice Kuewumi, however, turned down Oyewole’s prayer, saying the case before Justice Idris was different from the one before him.
He directed the lawyer to file a formal application for Dudafa’s bail.
The judge, however, granted Briggs and Bolodeoku a N250m bail each with one surety each in like sum.
The accused were directed to deposit their passports in the court’s custody pending the conclusion of their trial.
The sureties, the court said, must be resident in Lagos and must be owners of landed property in any highbrow area, the Certificate of Occupancy of which they were to deposit with the court.
The sureties were also to show evidence of tax payment.
The court adjourned till September 27, 2016 for commencement of trial.
In the suit filed by Patience, laying claim to the $15m, which is the subject of prosecution of Dudafa and others, one Sammie Somiari, who deposed to an affidavit on behalf of Patience, claimed that Dudafa helped Patience to open the bank accounts in 2010.
According to him, Dudafa had, on March 22, 2010, brought two Skye Bank officials to meet Patience at home to open five accounts.
The deponent claimed that Patience was the sole signatory to the accounts.
He, however, claimed that after the five accounts were opened, Patience later discovered that Dudafa opened only one of the accounts in her name while the other four were opened in the names of companies belonging to Dudafa.
Somiari added, “The applicant (Patience) complained about this to Honourable Dudafa, who, at his prompting and instance, promised to effect the change of the said accounts to the applicant’s name; and to effect this change, Honourable Dudafa brought the said bank manager, Mr. Dipo Oshodi, who purported to have effected the changes. This was about April 2014.
“The applicant is not a director, shareholder or participant in the companies named in the aforementioned four accounts.
“The bank official, Mr. Dipo Oshodi, as it would appear, did not effect or reflect the instruction of the applicant to change the said accounts to her name despite repeated requests of the applicant.”
In her reaction to the court proceedings on Thursday, Patience said the four accused persons, who pleaded guilty to money laundering charges on behalf of the four companies linked her, were mercenaries hired by the EFCC.
The ex-President’s wife stated this in a statement on Thursday by her media aide, Chima Osuji.
She alleged that the EFCC presented four unknown persons, who were not authorised by the companies’ boards, to plead guilty on behalf of the companies.
She said it was a ploy by the EFCC to ensure that her hard-earned money was confiscated.
The ex-President’s wife argued that the EFCC failed to comply with Section 477 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, by not presenting to the court on Thursday any letter to show that the four persons were authorised by the companies to represent them.
Patience added, “This is a clear evidence of the desperation of the prosecution to pull down the former First Lady and confiscate her hard-earned money.
“It is an irony that it was the former First Lady who went to court for the repatriation of her confiscated money when she realised that the EFCC and its co-travellers were playing politics with this issue after she had come out publicly to say that the said money belonged to her and that she had all evidence to prove the sources of her money.
“Up until this very moment, the EFCC has refused to interrogate or invite her for questioning.”