A Federal High Court Lagos State South West Nigeria Wednesday ordered temporary forfeiture of a property at Banana Island, Lagos bought for $37.5m in 2013 by the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The property, designated as Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate, has 24 apartments, 18 flats and six penthouses, according to the court process filed before the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC).
Apart from the property, the court also ordered temporary forfeiture of the sums of $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70, said to be part of the rent collected on the property.
The money were alleged to have been kept in a commercial bank in Lagos.
The temporary forfeiture orders were made sequel to an ex parte application brought before the court by the EFCC counsel, Mr. Anselem Ozioko.
Ozioko told the court that the EFCC reasonably suspected that the property was acquired with proceeds of alleged unlawful activities of Diezani.
The lawyer said investigation by the EFCC revealed that Diezani made the $37.5m payment for the purchase of the property in cash, adding that the money was moved straight from her house in Abuja and paid into the selller’s First Bank account in Abuja.
“Nothing could be more suspicious than someone keeping such huge amounts in her apartment. Why was she doing that? To avoid attention.
“We are convinced beyond reasonable doubt because as of the time this happened, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke was still in public service as the Minister of Petroleum Resources,” Ozioko told the court.
Joined as co-respondents in the suit are Diezani, a legal practitioner, Afamefuna Nwokedi SAN, and a limited liability company, Rusimpex Limited.
In an affidavit sworn to by an EFCC investigation officer, Abdulrasheed Bawa, it was alleged that Nwokedi, in connivance with Diezani, purposely incorporated the company, Rusimpex Limited, on September 11, 2013 to facilitate the alleged fraud.
Bawa alleged further that when Nwokedi was questioned by the EFCC, the lawyer explained that he had approached Diezani for opportunities in the oil and gas industry but the ex-minister told him that being a lawyer, she did not have any such opportunity for him and asked him whether he could in the alternative manage landed properties, an offer which Nwokedi accepted.
Bawa said Nwokedi later registered Rusimpex Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission, wherein a lawyer in his law firm, Adetula Ayokunle, and a Russian, Vladmir Jourauleu, were listed as the directors of the company, while the address of Nwokedi’s law firm in Ikoyi, Lagos was registered as the business address of Rusimpex Limited.
The investigator added that when Ayokunle was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he only appended his signature on the CAC documents at his boss’ instruction, while Jourauleu denied knowledge of the company.
The investigator also explained that “Sometime in 2013, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, invited Barrister Afamefuna Nwokedi, the Principal Counsel of Stillwaters Law Firm, to her house in Abuja for a meeting where she told him to incorporate a company and use same as a front to manage landed properties on her behalf without using her name in any of the incorporation documents.
“She further directed Mr. Afamefuna Nwokedi to meet with Mr. Bisi Onasanya, the then Group Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc for that purpose.
“Mr. Stephen Onasanya was invited by the commission and he volunteered an extrajudicial statement wherein he stated that he marketed a property at Bella Vista, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, belonging to Mr. Youseff Fattau of Ibatex Nigeria Limited to Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke later bought the property from Mr. Youseff Fattau, through her lawyer, Mr. Afamefuna Nwokedi (who she introduced to him) and that payment for the said property was made through the Abuja office of First Bank of Nigeria Plc.
“First Bank of Nigeria Plc, through Mr. Barau Muazu, wrote to the commission and also volunteered an extrajudicial statement in writing that they made the payments totalling US37,500,000 to Ibatex Nigeria Limited & YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on behalf of Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and that they collected the entire cash from Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke at her residence of No. 10, Fredrick Chiluba Close of Jose Marti Street, Asokoro, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on her instruction.”
After listening to the submission of EFCC lawyer, Mr Anslem Ozioko, the presiding judge, Justice Chuka Obiozor acceded to the request of the anti-graft agency and made an order temporarily forfeiting the property and the funds to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
In addition, Justice Obiozor while adjoining the matter till 7 August 2017 for anyone interested in the property and funds to appear before him, directed EFCC to publish the order in a national daily.