N1.83bn: Court decides ex-naval chief’s fate April 6
Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed April 6, 2017 to rule on the application seeking the permanent forfeiture of N1.825bn found in the bank accounts of one Acquila Leasing Limited.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission alleged that the money was kept in the custody of the company by a former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Dele Ezeoba (retd.).
The anti-graft agency claimed that Ezeoba, who was the helmsman at the Nigerian Navy between 2012 and 2014, diverted the money from the coffers of the Navy.
The EFCC had on March 16, 2017 obtained an interim order of forfeiture in respect of the money.
After making the temporary forfeiture order, Justice Hassan gave 14 days for Acquila Leasing Limited, its alter ego, Chuka Onwuchekwa, and any other interested party to appear in court to give reasons why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
The judge ordered the EFCC to publish the order in a national newspaper to enable all interested parties to be aware of it.
When the matter came up on Tuesday, the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, told the judge that the court’s order had been complied with and the order had been published.
He added that he had filed an application seeking permanent forfeiture of the money.
He said Acquila Leasing Limited and Onwuchekwa had responded by filing a counter-affidavit and serving the same on him.
Counsel for Acquilla and Onwuchekwa, Mr. Paschal Madu, confirmed the position, adding that he was ready for the hearing of the application seeking the permanent forfeiture of the money.
Oyedepo subsequently moved the application, saying the judge should order the permanent of the money.
Responding, Madu said his clients were not opposed to the permanent forfeiture of the money.
He said his clients were not involved in any fraud, adding that Ezeoba, while giving them the money to buy shares for him, stated that the money was his savings over the years.
Madu said, “The action of the first respondent is one of those actions that this country should commend. We do not oppose the application by the EFCC; our affidavit supports it but we just want it to be noted that the respondent acted patriotrically, in good faith and to its utmost best in the love of the fatherland.
“Also, the second respondent, who is the alter ego of the first respondent, did not in any way involve in this transaction. We want to commend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, they are doing a very diligent job.”
Reacting, the EFCC lawyer, Oyedepo, urged Justice Hassan to order the permanent forfeiture of the N1.825bn to the Federal Government “in view of the admission of the respondents.”
“I submit that no further proof is expected to make a final order forfeiting the sum of N1.825bn to the Federal Government,” Oyedepo said.
He also commended Madu for his conduct, which, he said, “has been extremely commendable.”
“He is the first lawyer that I have seen who will ask his client to come to the EFCC’s office and say, ‘Tell them the truth’. We also commend his client for taking his legal advice,” Oyedepo said.
After listening to the two lawyers, Justice Hassan adjourned till April 6, 2017 to deliver his ruling.
In the affidavit filed in support of the application, an operative of the EFCC, Adamu Usman, said Ezeoba was probed following an intelligence report, which, he said, the anti-grant agency analysed and found to be worthy of investigation.
He said the information obtained from Ezeoba on June 21, 2016 by the EFCC revealed that the N1.825bn were proceeds of crime “fraudulently diverted from the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Ezeoba.”
“That Mr. Dele Joseph Ezeoba used the name of the first respondent (Acquila) to open the fraudulent account in disguise while he was the one who truly laundered the money.
“That in a desperate bid to further disguise and conceal the illicit source of the said funds, Mr. Dele Joseph Ezeoba entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to buy shares of Acquila Leasing Limited from the second respondent (Onwuchekwa), who is the Managing Director of the first respondent.
“That the said shares of Acquila Leasing Limited were worth N2.378,000,000.
“That out of the N2.378bn, the sum of N1.825bn only has been recovered in drafts in favour of the Federal Government of Nigeria,” Usman averred.