A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos today ordered former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba to forfeit the sum of N1.825billion he illegally diverted from the account of the Nigerian Navy to the Federal Government.
Justice Muslim Hassan gave the order while delivering judgement in an application for forfeiture filed before the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
It would be recalled that the ant-graft agency had on March 15,2017 filed an exparte application for interim forfeiture of the said sum of N1.825billion which the commission said was concealed in the account of a Stock broken firm Aquila Leasing Limited alleged to be proceeds of illegal act.
The Commission sued the money was kept in the custody of the company Ezeoba.
The anti-graft agency further claimed that Ezeoba, who served as Chief of Naval Staff between 2012 and 2014, diverted the money from the coffers of the Navy.
After granting the temporary forfeiture order, Justice Hassan gave 14 days to Acquila Leasing Limited, its Chairman/ Cheif Executive Officer, Chuka Onwuchekwa, and any other person interested in the money to appear in court to give reasons why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
The judge ordered EFCC to publish the order in a national newspaper to enable all interested parties aware of it.
When the matter came up on Tuesday, April 4 EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, told the judge that the court’s order had been complied with and the order published.
He added that he had filed an application seeking permanent forfeiture of the money, adding that Acquila Leasing Limited and Onwuchekwa had responded by filing a counter-affidavit and serving the same on him.
Pascal Madu, Counsel to Acquilla and Onwuchekwa, confirmed the position, adding that he was ready for hearing of the application seeking permanent forfeiture of the money.
Oyedepo subsequently moved the application, asking the judge to order permanent forfeiture of the money.
Responding, Madu said his clients were not opposed to the permanent forfeiture of the money.
Madu said that as a matter of fact, his clients were not involved in any fraud, adding that Ezeoba, while giving them the money to buy shares for him, stated that the money was his savings over the years.
Madu said, “The action of the first respondent is one of those actions that this country should commend. We do not oppose the application by the EFCC; our affidavit supports it, but we just want it to be noted that the respondent acted patriotically in good faith and to its utmost best in the love of the fatherland.
“Also, the second respondent, who is the chairman of Aquilla Leasing Ltd, did not in any way involve in this transaction. We want to commend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, they are doing a very diligent job.”
Reacting, the EFCC lawyer, Oyedepo, urged Justice Hassan to order the permanent forfeiture of the N1.825bn to the Federal Government “in view of the admission of the respondents.”
“I submit that no further proof is expected to make a final order forfeiting the sum of N1.825bn to the Federal Government,” Oyedepo submitted.
After listening to both lawyers, Justice Hassan adjourned till today, Thursday 5th for judgement.
Delivering judgment in the matter today, Justice Muslim Hassan held that since EFCC has fulfilled section 17 of the Money Laundering Act and other relevant laws and as well proved beyond reasonable doubt that the money was a product of unlawful act with no oppositions to the forfeiture of the money by Ezeoba and the other respondents, " the said sum of N1.825 billion is hereby forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria"
In the affidavit filed in support of the application EFCC said Ezeoba was probed following an intelligence report, which, he said, the anti-grant agency analyzed and found worthy of investigation.
He said the information obtained from Ezeoba on June 21, 2016 by the EFCC revealed that the N1.825bn were proceeds of crime “fraudulently diverted from the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Ezeoba.”
“That Mr. Dele Joseph Ezeoba used the name of the first respondent (Acquila Leasing Limited) to open the fraudulent account in disguise while he was the one who truly laundered the money.
“That in a desperate bid to further disguise and conceal the i source of the said funds, Mr. Dele Joseph Ezeoba entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to buy shares of Acquila Leasing Limited from the second respondent (Onwuchekwa), who is the Managing Director of the first respondent.
“That the said shares of Acquila Leasing Limited were worth N2.378,000,000.
“That out of the N2.378bn, the sum of N1.825bn has been recovered in drafts in favour of the Federal Government of Nigeria,” the commission stated.