By Temitope Stephen
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday fixed October 4 to deliver its ruling on a request by a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator, Peter Nwaoboshi, to vacate the temporary order of forfeiture on his 12-storey building which he allegedly bought with proceeds of crime.
Specifically, the EFCC had alleged that Nwaoboshi laundered part of N1.5billion, which he purportedly obtained fraudulently from Delta State, through a company known as Suiming Nigeria Ltd.
But the commission prayed the court not to discharge the interim order made by Justice Abdullazeez Anka.
An EFCC operative, Mr Garuba Abubakar, in a counter-affidavit to the Senator’s motion, said Nwaoboshi, a former Delta State chairman of PDP, got a contract through his company, Bilderberg Enterprises Ltd, to supply new construction equipment for the state Direct Labour Agency at N1,580,000,000.
The company allegedly imported and supplied used construction equipment rather than brand new ones despite receiving full payment.
EFCC said the Nwaoboshi, with the proceeds, bought the 12-floor building at 29 Marine Road, Apapa from Delta State Government at N805million in the name of Golden Touch Construction Projects Ltd.
The commission said the Senator had no “visible legitimate business venture to generate the amount spent to purchase the said property.”
According to EFCC, Nwaoboshi has 20 bank accounts which he operates in Nigeria, while companies directly linked to him maintain another 20.
The commission said the interim forfeiture order granted on April 21 was to preserve the property from being dissipated.
“A criminal charge will most likely be preferred against the respondents at the conclusion of investigation.
“As part of our investigation procedure, the first respondent (Nwaoboshi) will be invited very soon after having assembled all incriminating evidence against him before charging him and other to court,” the deponent said.
EFCC said contrary to the Senator’s claim that he sold the property to Suiming Nigeria, the company actually belonged to him.
“The first respondent is the alter ego of Suiming Nigeria as contained in his Asset Declaration Form. First respondent controls the affairs of Suiming Nigeria Ltd, the second (Golden Touch Construction) and third (Bilderberg Enterprises) respondents but deliberately hides his identity.
“The purported transaction between second respondent and Suiming Electricals Ltd is a transaction done by one and same person – the first respondent, which is typical of money laundering scheme.
It is in the interest of justice to refuse this application,” EFCC said
Arguing an application seeking to discharge the forfeiture order, Nwaoboshi’s lawyer Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) said commission concealed material facts in obtaining the order, and did not comply with the EFCC Act, which he said robbed the court of jurisdiction.
Besides, he said the temporary forfeiture violated his client’s right to own property as guaranteed by Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution, adding that the suit was an abuse of court process.
“It becomes dangerous for citizens if the state can sieze citizens’ property without a criminal proceding against them,” he said.
Idigbe said mere suspicion of crime was not a valid reason to attach a property, adding: “There is nothing linking money from the contract to the property.”
The SAN said the case was an abuse of court process because there was an pending case at the court’s Asaba division on the same issue.
“The case in Asaba predated this order. They should have disclosed to your lordship the existence of that case,” Idigbe said.
But, EFCC’s lawyer Ekele Iheanacho said the right to own property was not absolute, and that a property could be temporarily forfeited during investigation even if no charge had been filed.
“Arrest is not a condition precedent to forfeiture. The law allows that even though the person has not been arrested, the property can still be attached.”
On abuse of court, the EFCC lawyer said: “The Learned SAN created a heavy storm in a teacup on abuse of court process.
The case in Asaba is a civil suit brought under the Civil Procedure Rules and with different parties.
The proceeding is entirely different from this.
“This proceeding is a quasi-criminal matter. There is evidence of money laundering. He did not supply what he was meant to supply. The first respondent has been using the companies as fronts. All the transactions were done by one and same person.
“We urge the court to reject this application and not to discharge the earlier order made by the court,” Iheanacho prayed.
Justice Anka adjourned till October 4 for ruling.