Judge refuses to unfreeze accounts
The Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday refused to grant Mrs. Patience Jonathan’s request to release her accounts holding $15.591million.
Justice Mohammed Idris held that she and other parties must give oral evidence on the money’s ownership.
Mrs. Jonathan will, therefore, be required to appear in court to give evidence on how she came about the money, which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) described as a “proceed of crime”.
Since the case was filed, Mrs. Jonathan has never attended the proceedings. She has always been represented by lawyers.
She sued the EFCC for placing a no-debit order on the Skye Bank Plc accounts.
Justice Idris ordered parties to file pleadings since issues were joined on the money’s ownership.
The judge said the defendants formulated issues that were different from the one formulated by Mrs. Jonathan in her originating summons, which he said was “unacceptable”.
Besides, he said the nature of the case was not one to be decided by or an originating summons procedure in which witnesses are not called to testify.
“The issues formulated by all the defendants are baseless. They go to no issue and will be ignored by the court.
“I hold that this court lacks the competence to determine the issues raised by the defendants in their written addresses, having abandoned the specific issues formulated by the plaintiff in the originating summons.
“It is unfortunate. I say this because the issues raised by the defendants appear on the face of it good and deserving to be considered on their merit.
“But, I as I understand it to be the law, sentiment has no basis in the adjudicatory system,” the judge said.
Justice Idris said where processes were not properly prepared, any defect would render the proceeding fatal.
The court, he said, cannot “re-formulate” the issues for determination.
He further held that there was a contention as to issues and facts on the money’s ownership.
“In respect of this issue (of ownership), the contention appears divided and there is clearly an air of friction in the proceedings,” the judge said.
According to him, all the defendants’ counter-affidavits contain disputed facts that could not be decided without oral evidence.
“In the light of the above affidavit evidence, it cannot in my view be rightly contended that there are no disputed facts of substance as to the ownership of the said funds and the law.
“The issues of fact raised by the defendants herein are not spurious or irrelevant. The affidavit of the plaintiff is also not conjectural.
“In my view, the facts are contentious, and oral evidence needs to be led by the parties herein.
“In the light of the above facts, this case is generally not suitable for an originating summons procedure.
“In the circumstances, the court hereby orders that the parties herein file pleadings in accordance with the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2009 and trial shall then proceed accordingly.
“This is the order of the court,” Justice Idris held.
The EFCC had urged the court not to release the accounts because the money is suspected to be a “proceed of crime”.
Skye Bank Plc, Jonathan’s former aide Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, Pluto Property and Investment Company Ltd, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Ltd, Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Ltd and Avalon Global Property Development Ltd are the other respondents.
The companies, through their representatives, had pleaded guilty to laundering the money last September 15, when they were arraigned before Justice Babs Kuewumi of the same court.
They were charged with Dudafa, Briggs and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku for laundering the money.
Unlike the companies, Dudafa, Briggs and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty to the 17-count charge.
But, the companies, through another representative, filed an appeal, contending that they pleaded guilty “in error”. The appeal is pending.
In a supporting affidavit to her application, Mrs. Jonathan’s aide, Sammie Somiari said Dudafa helped the former first lady to open the accounts about March 2010.
The deponent claimed Mrs. Jonathan was the sole signatory to the accounts and that she had no relationship with the companies.
He said after the accounts were opened, Mrs. Jonathan 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.
The deponent said Mrs. Jonathan continued to operate the accounts even though they were not in her name.
He said the bankers promised to rectify the problem by changing the accounts to Mrs. Jonathan’s name, but never did.
EFCC is contending that the money is a proceed of crime and should be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Another judge of the court on April 26 ordered the temporary forfeiture of a separate $5,842,316.66 belonging to Mrs. Jonathan.
EFCC said the sum was “reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities”.
According to the commission, “several huge cash deposits in dollars were made to the account, sometimes with fictitious names”.
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