A Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has no power to appoint a private manager to manage properties belonging to suspects while their trial was still pending in courts.
Delivering judgment in a suit filed by one of the suspects in the police pension scam, Esai Dangabar, Justice Adeniyi Ademola held that the law establishing the EFCC did not give it such powers to appoint persons to manage, sell or deal in properties attached in the interim or forfeited in the long without an order of court.
Dangabar, a suspended Permanent Secretary was charged with seven others for stealing N32.8 billion belonging to the Police Pension Fund.
While the judge conceded that EFCC had the power to apply for attachment of properties of suspects in the interim, he held that the commission could not otherwise deal with the properties without a court order.
He held: “In law there is a world of difference between custody/interim possession and ownership of a forfeited property which defendant’s counsel, Mr Rotimi Jacobs must appreciate in a matter pending before a court of law.”
Justice Ademola further held that as an agency of the Federal Government, EFCC must obey decisions of courts of law under section 287(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended and not hide under the guise of filing an interlocutory application in an appellate court.
The court consequently granted the reliefs sought by Dangabar as argued by Mrs Victoria Awomolo. First, it appointed the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court as a Receiver/Manager over the plaintiff’s properties covered by the order of an Abuja High Court made on May 3rd, 2012 pending the determination of the criminal charges against him.
The judge also ordered EFCC and the manager appointed by it to manage Dangabar’s properties, Etudo and Co Estate Survey Valuers to pay all the monies already collected in respect of the properties to the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court.
“It is also ordered subsequent moneis accruing from the plaintiff’s properties payable by any person by any person be paid to the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court pending the determination of the criminal charges against him.
Last year the commission secured an interim order from the then Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Justice Lawal H. Gummi, to take possession of 45 assets of six suspects who allegedly defrauded the Police Pension Office of N32.8 billion.
The order also covered the freezing of the accounts of the suspects.
The six suspects are Esai Dangabar, a suspended Permanent Secretary, Atiku Abubakar Kigo, Ahmed Inuwa Wada, John Yakubu Yusufu, Mrs. Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula and Sani Habila Zira.
All the suspects were arraigned on March 29 on 16 criminal charges bordering on conspiracy and criminal breach of trust before Justice Mohammed Talba of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory , Gudu, Abuja.
The charges against them had since been amended.
According to a statement issued by the Head of Media and Publicity of the commission, Mr. Wilson Uwujiaren, the EFCC had sought the leave of the court to seize the assets – in line with sections 28 and 29 of the EFCC (Establishment Act) 2004.
Section 28 reads: “Where a person is arrested for an offence under this Act, the Commission shall immediately trace and attach all the assets and properties of the person acquired as a result of such economic or financial crime and shall thereafter cause to be obtained an interim attachment order from the Court.”
The EFCC said the judge ordered the freezing of the bank accounts of all the accused persons, pending the hearing and final determination of the corruption case against them
Dangabar was however dissatisfied with the court order which gave his properties to EFCC. He challenged the legality of the order at the Court of Appeal and lost.
In a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Olukayode Bada, the Court of Appeal held that the interim order of attachment made by the lower court was not meant to be indefinite but only to last till the final determination of the charge against the accused person.
However, Dangabar got the opportunity to ward off EFCC from his properties when the commission appointed a private firm to manage the properties.
And the court agreed with him that EFCC had gone beyond its powers in appointing a private estate management firm to manage the properties when the charges against him were still pending in court.
In holding that EFCC had not power to appoint a private firm to manage the properties, Justice Ademola held: “The words in the said Section 26 of the Act are clear, intelligible, unambiguous and devoid or arguments.
“Learned counsel for defendants is only trying to import words into the section which the court will not accepts by any stretch of the imagination.
“If the lawmakers, intended it, as defendant’s counsel contends they would have empowered EFCC to manage the forfeited property of any person affected by an order of attachment/forfeiture.
“The Act establishing, the EFCC clearly does not give it such powers to appoint persons to manage, sell or deal in the said properties attached in the interim or forfeited in the long run without an order of court.”
The EFCC gave the breakdown of the assets as follows: Dangabar(15), Mrs. Onyegbula(11), Wada(six) Kigo(five), Yusuf(four) and Zira(four).
The statement said: “According to the order, all the bank accounts currently being operated and maintained by Inuwa Wada at Keystone and Zenith Bank, all totalling 11 in number, are hereby temporarily frozen until the determination of the charge Number FCT/Cr/64/2012.
“Similarly, all the bank accounts presently being operated and maintained by Esai Dangabar, Atiku A. Kigo and Veronica Onyegbula in the following banks: EcoBank, FCMB, Access Bank, Skye Bank, Fortis Micro Finance Bank, Aso Savings, GTB, Mainstreet Bank and Wema Bank are hereby temporarily frozen pending the hearing and determination of all the said criminal charge No. FCT/64/2012 presently pending before this court,” the Judge is quoted as ruled.
“The 15 property belonging to Esai are: Block of three bedroom flats at Gwarinpa (six units), along EFAB Estate, Life camp; a Block of three-bedroom flats (six units) at Mabushi District, beside Ministry of Works; Estate of four-bedroom duplexes (16 units) behind Wuye Modern Market, Abuja; a mini estate at 19, Ukpabi Asika Street, Asokoro, Abuja; 12 units of two-bedroom flats at 1, Waziri Ibrahim Crescent, Gudu District, Abuja; five-bedroom duplexes at 1, Waziri Ibrahim Crescent, Gudu District, Abuja; four-bedroom bungalows at 1, Waziri Ibrahim Crescent, Gudu District, Abuja; two-bedroom flat at Zone C, Apo Resettlement Layout. Others are: five blocks of one-bedroom flats at Zone C, Apo Resettlement Layout, Abuja; twin duplex of five-bedroom & three rooms, 33, ML Wushishi BQ 1 Crescent, Utako, Abuja; two blocks of three bedroom flats, Area 3, former NYSC Office, Abuja; two-bedroom, Area 2, Abuja, behind Shopping Complex , three-bedroom flats , 2 Goran village, along Adi Farms Ltd, Abuja-Keffi Road, 180,000 litres storage facility on a land of about 5,000sqm, with office building, workshop and 20 loading bay 1 Suleja, Niger State.
“The 11 property belonging to Mrs. Onyegbula are: four-bedroom duplex at No.3, Andorra Street, Sun City, Galadimawa, Abuja; Building Housing Ulover International Resources Ltd, Kechis Bottling Company, Plot 140 – 142 Ehinmiri Housing Estate, Umuahia, Abia State; Building (six-bedroom duplex), Housing Somadok, 14, Ola Adeshile Street, Ajao Estate, Oshodi-Isolo, Lagos; large plot of land for International Primary & Secondary School, Ehinmiri Housing Estate, Phase 2, Umuahia, Abia State; a mansion with a BQ at Umugbalu Village, Oboro, Ikwuano Local Government Area, Abia State.
Others are: two-storey building with shops and flats at No.l03, Ozuitem, Street, Enugu Road, Amuziukwu, Umuahia, Abia State; One, two-storey building with shops and flats at No. l04, Ozuitem Street, Enugu Road, Amuziukwu, Umuahia, Abia State; two-storey building of six flats at Ukaegbu Street, Aba, Abia State; Student Hostels at Michael Okpara University of Agric, Umudike, Oboro, Ikwuano Local Government Area, Abia State; three bedroom duplex at No.1, Tola Adewumi Street, Off. Folarin Hospital, Maryland ; three-bedroom duplex at No.2, Tola Adewumi Street , Off Folarin Hospital, Maryland.
“The six property belonging to Wada are: four-bedroom duplex at Block B4, Finance Quarters, Wuye, Abuja; house at Gwale, Kano; house at Filling Mushe, Gwale Local Government Area, Kano; duplex at Saudauna Crescent, Nassarawa Kano; duplex at Dorayi Karshen Waya, behind Old BUK, Kano; house at Unguwa Uku, Kano.
“The five property belonging to Kigo are a three-bedroom bungalow at 18 Uruguay Street, Panasonic Estate, Wuse 2; four-bedroom duplex at Gudu New layout, Abuja; four-bedroom duplex at 35, Lake Chad Crescent, Maitama, Abuja; a 4 bedroom duplex at FHA, Gwarinpa new Extension beside COCIN Church and an International Secondary and Primary School (under construction) at Kuje, Abuja.
“The Four property of Zira are: Concept College London, Gwarinpa, Close to Ecobank, Abuja; block of flats at FCDA Quarters, Phase II, Block J, Flat 1 & 2 Garki, Abuja ; hotel (aka Habila Hasike’s Hotel) beside Yasekule Primary School, on the same street with Michika Local Government Secretariat, Adamawa State; A House at No.36, Malamre Wark, Jimeta, Yola, Adamawa State.
“Yusuf’s property in Gombe and Abuja are: hotel (under construction, finishing level) behind Gombe State Investment Property Company Housing Estate, Gombe State ; three-bedroom semi-detached bungalow at UU1, A&B, Sunny Homes, Dakwo District, Abuja ; three-bedroom semi-detached bungalow at U20, A&B, Sunny Homes, Dakwo District, Abuja .”