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How FG, Niger lost claims to N6bn alleged crime proceeds

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Ade Adesomoju, Abuja

Both the Federal Government and the Niger State Government on Wednesday lost their separate ownership claims to an allegedly unclaimed sum of N6bn found in the bank accounts of two companies.

The Economic and Financial Crime Commission had asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to make an order finally forfeiting the money to the Federal Government, but the Niger State Government had objected, praying instead that the court should rule that the money was looted from its treasury and rightly belonged to it.

However, ruling on the separate requests by both the EFCC and the Niger State Government on Wednesday, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba held that both of them failed to show sufficient evidence to warrant the permanent forfeiture of the money to either of the state or the federal government.

The court had on May 25, 2017, following an ex parte application by the EFCC, made an order of interim forfeiture of the allegedly unclaimed sum of N6bn domiciled in four bank accounts.

The court had also in the said May 25, 2017 ruling, ordered the EFCC to publish the interim forfeiture order in a national newspaper, inviting everyone who might have an interest in the said N6bn to show cause why the funds should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.

The funds were spread across the Guaranty Trust Bank and the United Bank for Africa accounts of Katah Property and Investment Limited and Sadiq Air Travels Agency Limited.

Each of Katah Property and Investment Limited and Sadiq Air Travels Agency Limited had two accounts with GTB and UBA.

Following the publication of a notice of the temporary forfeiture of the funds to the Federal Government, Niger State Government had come forward to lay claim to the money.

The companies, in whose bank accounts the N6bn was domiciled, also opposed the prayer for a final forfeiture order of the money to either the Niger State Government or the Federal Government.

The EFCC had alleged that the funds were “ill-gotten”.

The commission alleged that the money was derived from “some criminal activities” and that the money was under its “criminal investigations”.

The commission alleged that the main suspect, Alhaji Kantigi Liman, who was said to be at large, used the bank accounts of the companies to obtain money under false pretence from innocent victims.

The commission also alleged that the suspect used the companies as conduits to siphon the Niger State Government’s funds under the then Governor Babangida Aliyu administration “without any contract job and project for the state”.

But in his ruling on Wednesday, Justice Dimgba held that the companies with the accounts bearing the funds enjoyed rights of presumption of innocence guaranteed by Section 36(5) of the constitution and the right to own property guaranteed under Section 43 of the Constitution.

The judge said the claim by the EFCC that it was still investigating the funds in the four bank accounts showed that the commission was not yet sure of the facts it put the before the court to canvass for the final forfeiture of the money to the Federal Government.

He ruled, “What is clear from the above is that the applicant, the EFCC, is not absolutely sure of its facts to date, since the matter by their own admission is still under investigation.

“If investigation is still ongoing, and they are not absolutely sure of their facts, it follows that what they possess at the moment is suspicion.

“…In the light of the EFCC’s admission that they are still conducting criminal investigations on the assets, I believe that it amounts to taking victory over the subject matter of legal proceedings by stealth, in approaching the court for an order absolutely forfeiting the funds to the government, through this route of non-conviction based assets forfeiture offered by Section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act.”

The judge, after rejecting the EFCC’s request for the forfeiture of the money to the Federal Government also said the Niger State Government too failed in its bid to claim its ownership.

The judge ruled, “Having very carefully reviewed the materials provided by Niger State Government, I do not believe that they should succeed and that a sufficient case has been made for the funds in the subject accounts to be permanently forfeited to them.

“What I have seen are assertions without sufficient proof.

“In fact, I see a number of cracks in the position of Niger State Government; questions for which insufficient answers have been provided.”

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