Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday set aside his earlier order of interim forfeiture against 40 properties linked to former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.
Justice Ekwo discharged the order on the grounds that it was obtained on concealment of facts.
Delivering ruling in Ekweremadu’s motion challenging the interim forfeiture order, the court faulted the request of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in asking someone who is currently detained in the United Kingdom to come and show cause why the affected properties should not be permanently forfeited to the government.
Following an exparte application by the EFCC, Justice Ekwo had last year ordered the federal government to temporarily seize 40 landed properties belonging to the former Deputy Senate President, pending the order for affected persons to show cause why the properties should not be permanently given to the federal government.
Since the order of interim forfeiture was issued, Ekweremadu through his lawyer, the Anambra State Government and a medical firm have come out to challenge the order.
While Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, had argued on behalf of Ekweremadu, federal government’s lawyer, Mr Sylvanus Tahir, SAN, who had opposed the request for the setting aside of the forfeiture order, stated that he would however not oppose an order of status quo, pending the return of Ekweremadu, who is currently being detained in the United Kingdom over allegations bordering on organ harvesting.
In the application for setting aside of the order of interim forfeiture, Ekweremadu accused EFCC of being responsible for his travails at the London Court where he has been held since June this year for allegedly taking a minor to the UK for the purpose of harvesting the minor’s organ.
Although Ekweremadu, who was arrested alongside his wife, Beatrice, pleaded not guilty to the charge, emphasising that the alleged victim was not a minor as claimed, adding that the victim had agreed to follow them to the UK to donate part of his organ for Ekweremadu’s sick daughter in a London hospital.
Awomolo, in supporting the allegations, informed Justice Ekwo that the commission wrote a letter to London, following which the foreign court denied Ekweremadu bail.
Speaking further, the learned silk claimed that the forfeiture order was granted to the federal government in error because the EFCC suppressed information and facts in respect of the properties.
According to Awomolo, the anti-graft agency fraudulently obtained the forfeiture order for the government by concealing information that investigation on the 40 properties started as far back as 2008.
Among others, he alleged that the EFCC was fully aware that Ekweremadu was in detention in London when the application for forfeiture of the properties was filed and argued.
He said the anti-graft agency deliberately refused to disclose to the court that the former DSP is being held in London and would not be able to counter the forfeiture request.
Awomolo therefore prayed the court to set aside the forfeiture order and stay proceedings in the matter until Ekweremadu resolves his ordeal at the London Court.
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Tahir denied that his client was behind Ekweremadu’s ordeal.
Tahir, however, admitted that EFCC wrote the London Court based on a special request, adding that it was a routine for anti-graft agencies to exchange information that would be of help to one another.
Tahir did not oppose request for stay of proceedings till Ekweremadu fully resolved his matter before the London Court, but vehemently opposed the request for setting aside of the forfeiture order.
Justice Ekwo, after taking arguments from parties, fixed January 25 next year for ruling in the matter.
HURIWA Condemns EFCC
Meanwhile, civil liberties advocacy group, the Human Rights Writers Association, HURIWA, has rebuked the EFCC for misleading the Federal High Court Abuja into granting an earlier order of interim forfeiture of properties linked to Ekweremadu, and called for the censure of the hierarchy of Abdulrasheed-led anti-graft agency for judicial subterfuge
HURIWA said the ruling yesterday by Justice Inyang Ekpo of the Federal High Court had further exposed “the alleged unholy alliance of the EFCC and the London Metropolitan Police and authorities” in the continued detention of the Senator, reiterating that failure to penalise the EFCC would further entrench the abuse of court process.
HURIWA said: “We commend the court for this show of courage despite the well-known tactics of intimidation and arm-twisting of the judiciary allegedly by the EFCC.
“This well-grounded ruling has confirmed our November 4, 2022 position that the asset forfeiture lawsuit at a time Ekweremadu was in custody, facing trial in the United Kingdom, and unable to defend himself was malicious, immoral, in bad faith, and tantamount to a country throwing her citizen under the bus.
“We are equally happy with the court with the report that the judiciary in this ruling reportedly made it obvious to Nigerians and the entire world that the London prosecutors relied on EFCC’s letter to block Ekweremadu’s bail for an alleged offence that is bailable, but only for the same EFCC to come home to ask a man they helped to keep in perpetual detention to come forth to show cause why his alleged properties should not be forfeited.
“It is therefore our view that this willful subterfuge, concealment of facts, misleading of the court, and obtaining of court order by false pretence by the EFCC as contained in the ruling must be met with adequate legal censure to serve as a deterrent to other agencies.”