The ruling came as mystery over ownership of the money deepened yesterday, as speculations were rife that the money belonged to a government security agency.
A representative of the security agency was said to have gotten in touch with EFCC officials last night to claim ownership of the money and also protested against the invasionof the property which he said, was a ‘safe house’.
While the building itself was said to belong to a former chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the apartment in question was said to have been rented by a former Managing Director of NNPC Retail Ltd (a subsidiary of the NNPC). The director has since denied ownership of the money.
This is even as some senior lawyers, including Prof. Tahir Mamman, SAN; Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN; Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo; and Mr. Femi Aborisade, bared their minds on the development.
At the scene yesterday, a few operatives of the Economic and Crimes Commission, EFCC, denied people access to the 12-storey building at Osborne Tower, located close to the residence of the Deputy Governor of Lagos State.
A source close to some residents of the Tower told Vanguard that EFCC operatives seized the mobile phones of staff of Alpha Mead Facilities and Management Services Limited, the company maintaining the building, when they stormed the place.
The source said: “We had no idea that such amount of money is in the apartment; we usually see a lady who often comes to the apartment.
‘’At times, she comes with two travelling bags. Nobody knows the content of the bags, because we are not allowed to search residents of the apartment. Whenever she comes around, she will call for assistance to take the bags to her room.
“She did not drop her real name to lodge into the house, and the EFCC agents have been trying to get her real details. As I speak to you now, two officers are in the apartment waiting to see if she would come around.
“She was here on Tuesday. She comes during the day and leaves in the evening or sometimes in the night. She doesn’t sleep here, even her clothing are not here, and we clean the room.
“I think she got the apartment only to store money there. We even thought it was wrong information until we saw the money she kept in her toilet, even on top of her wardrobe. It took the EFCC agents about three hours to break into the apartment.
“The EFCC agent took the manager along with the Chief Security Officer, CSO, for interrogation. They were later released at 10:00 pm on Wednesday.”
The EFCC had in an ex-parte application, sought an interim order of the court to forfeit the money to the Federal Government.
In the ruling, trial judge, Justice Muslim Hassan, ordered that the funds be temporarily forfeited to the Federal Government.
The judge adjourned until May 5, for anyone interested in the funds to show up before him to show cause why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
The judge made the forfeiture order shortly after entertaining an ex-parte application by an EFCC counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo.
The EFCC had on Wednesday evening ,raided an apartment, numbered Flat 7B, No. 13, Osborne Road, Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, recovering the sums of $43,449,947, £27,800 and N23,218,000 kept in iron cabinets and “Ghana must go” sacks in the said apartment which was under security locks.
Moving the ex-parte application for the interim forfeiture of the funds, Oyedepo told the court that no one had come forward to claim it, adding that the staff of one AM Facilities managing the apartment where the huge sums were found could not provide the anti-graft agency with information on the possible owner of the money.
He urged the judge to exercise the power conferred on him by Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Related Offences Act to order interim forfeiture of the money to the Federal Government.
“We received an intelligence that No.16, Osborne Road, Osborne Towers, Flat 7B had in it various sums of money that we are seeking to forfeit.
“The intelligence was acted upon and on getting there, we executed Exhibited EFCC-1, which is a search warrant. As God would have it sir, we were able to recover $43, 449,947; still in the same flat we also recovered £27,800. That was not all, we were also able to recover N23,218,000.
“For security reasons and because of the volume, we did not want to bring the money before My Lord but we have registered it as an exhibit with the exhibit keeper and the evidence is contained in Exhibit EFCC-04.
“Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act empowered My Lord, where a property is found to be an unclaimed property or where a property is found to be proceeds of an unlawful activity, to forfeit such property in the interim,” Oyedepo said.
He pointed the judge’s attention to a portion of the court papers where the commission had stated under oath that “no one had approached the commission to claim the said money with reasonable evidence confirming the genuineness of the origin of the money that we are seeking to forfeit in the interim.
“I, therefore, humbly and most respectfully urge My Lord to forfeit this money to the Federal Government, pending when anyone who has the mind come and claim it,” the lawyer added.
After listening to him, Justice Hassan, in a short ruling, said in view of the facts placed before him, he was “mindful of granting the interim reliefs sought by the EFCC.
He also granted the anti-graft agency’s prayer to advertise or publish the interim forfeiture order in any national newspaper for any concerned party to see it.
He adjourned till May 5, 2017, for such a person to come before him to give reasons the money should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
Operatives of the anti-graft agency stormed the building early Wednesday morning, saying they were acting on a tip off from a whistle-blower.
“The attention of Our Client, Mrs. Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue, has been drawn to the news making the round in the News Media to the effect that the large sums of money to wit: $38,000,000.00 (Thirty-Eight Million Dollars),N23,000,000.00 (Twenty-Three Million Naira) and £27,000.00 (Twenty-Seven Thousand Pounds) uncovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) from an apartment in Osborne Towers, Osborne Road, Ikoyi Lagos, Lagos State belong to her.
“By this Press Release, we inform the public (especially the News Media) that the said sums of money and/or the apartment where the sums of money were found do not belong to Our Client.
“Our Client is as shocked as many other Nigerians at the uncovering and recovery of the said sums of money and wishes to salute the courage and efforts of the EFCC in the war against corruption.
“She also wishes to commend the whistle blowing policy introduced by the Federal Government in the fight against corruption which has resulted in large scale uncovering and recovery of monies and assets.
“It is our client’s belief that the source and ownership of the said uncovered sums of money is known or eventually will be known by the EFCC in due course. There is, therefore, no need for conjecture or speculation.”
“My attention has been drawn to the news making the rounds that I own the building on No.16 Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. I want to state clearly that I built the said property and sold to prospective buyers of individual flats,” he said.
“I have been a property developer since 1983 and I have developed and sold several properties all over the world, the property in question happens to be one of them. I acquired the land and jointly developed it using a bank loan, I obtained about nine (9) years ago.
“However all the flats have been sold to prospective buyers inorder to pay back the loan. I do not own or occupy any of the apartments. I sold all the apartments through established estate agents, as such I have no knowledge or interest in who purchases or rents any of the flats.”
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Mu’azu commended the EFCC for the fight against corruption, stating that he believes they will reveal the real owner of the apartment, where the monies were found.
“I commend the efforts of the official of the EFCC and the government’s drive at fighting corruption and also the media in informing the public on illicit and corrupt proceeds.
“My response is not intended to jeopardise or interfere with the ongoing investigation of the anti graft and security agencies but to clear the misconception that the house in question belongs to me.
“I strongly believe that the efforts being made will surely unveil the real owner of such flat and the monies recovered.”
‘’It is one of shock and disbelief that an individual can keep money of this magnitude in the house. There is no question that it’s a product of illegality because no sane business person will arrest that type of capital. Only God knows for how long the money has been kept fallow and for what purpose! We sincerely hope the security agencies establish the person who claims to be the owner. I say claim because the real owner is the impoverished Nigerian citizen. Clearly, the whistle blower policy is a master stroke and it is gratifying that Nigerians have taken up the clarion call.
On the heels of developments over the Lagos cash haul, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, has reiterated the commission’s readiness to ensure that corruption was completely wiped out in Nigeria.
Magu made this known during an interactive session with staff of the commission to mark its 14th year anniversary.
While encouraging the staff to uphold the core values of the Commission, Magu said it was necessary to put more efforts into the ongoing fight against corruption as that was the only way succour could be brought to Nigeria.
His words: “We will continue to fight corruption, whether anybody likes it or not, because that is the only way we can bring succour to this country. Now that we have found ourselves in this position, please, let us put heads together”.
The anti-graft czar, also encouraged the personnel to furnish him with information on how the Commission can move forward; information on the wrong things the personnel are doing, in order for them to be addressed, so that the image of the Agency will not be tarnished.
He said: “My door is completely open. If something is going wrong, please come and tell me. If you don’t want to show your face, just write a letter to me. Information is very important. I am alone, if you don’t tell me what is wrong, I would not know. “I don’t want to know what is right, just tell us how we can correct the system itself, because the system needs correction every day. People are complaining about corruption in the EFCC, which is not good. We should not allow some individuals to spoil our names here.”
Magu who said that the efforts being made by the Commission in fighting corruption, were fast gaining recognition in the international community, charged the staff to shun wrong things and be part of the success story.
He said it was necessary to always remember to put the interest of the nation first. “If you go to United States of America and the United Kingdom, they are all awash with news about us because of this Malabu case. So we are succeeding. Be part of the success. Forget about your own interest. Consider the overall interest of this country and the interest of the EFCC as an institution.”
That is the procedure. Then later, they will advertise it for someone to come forward to claim it. And if the person comes forward to claim it and cannot establish proper title or ownership of it, it will be permanently forfeited. So that is the normal thing. It needs court order to temporarily seize it so that nobody spends it.
That would appear to be in order. There is nothing abnormal about it at all. It is the appropriate thing to do. I have not followed that development closely, I just have a brief idea of it. Ordinarily, if the sum of money is not being laundered, it ought to go through the banking system. That so much money is kept in a private place like that will suggest curiosity.
Of course, that is a legitimate thing. Money found in a building, from the whistle blower’s information policy has to be investigated to find out whether or not the money is from a legitimate means or not. If such money was not kept with the CBN, where can it be kept that will be safe? If they should find out that the money was proceed from illicit activity, the federal government has the right to investigate and prosecute for that particular fund.