The Federal High Court in Abuja has recently confirmed that the country’s chief anti-graft Agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) has committed a grave error in listing two properties in the United Kingdom belonging to a businessman, Benedict Peters as part of assets owned by former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison Madueke, who is currently being investigated for corrupt practices.
By this decision made on July 6, 2018, the court has upheld Peters’ case that the properties wholly belonged to him; were unconnected to the former Petroleum Minister and were unjustifiably included in a list of properties the anti-graft agency tried to seize.
In 2016, through the mutual legal assistance treaty, the EFCC with counterpart crime agencies in the United kingdom were able to obtain an interim forfeiture order from an English court, whereby the two properties in London, became a subject of criminal investigations.
Frustrated by what he felt was an injustice to him and out to clear his name from been associated with a financial crime investigation, Benedict Peters, who is the CEO of oil conglomerate, Aiteo headed to the courts.
In an application argued on his behalf by Chief Wole Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the court was urged to vacate the orders because EFCC’s premise for alleging that the properties belonged to Allison-Madueke was manifestly unfounded and not supported by any shred of evidence.
Relying on the contentions that EFCC acted “upon gross misstatements, concealment and misrepresentation of facts,” sought and obtained ex-parte an interim order of forfeiture of the properties, Chief Olanipekun argued that “that the mandatory condition precedent to the grant of the interim forfeiture order was not complied with and due process of law was not followed in obtaining the interim order of forfeiture“.
For the applicants, it was further asserted that concealment of accurate, relevant information from the judge when the order was made was fatal to EFCC’s case. The applications were based also on a number of significant legal arguments demonstrating the unsustainability of the order.
In her judgement, the Honourable Justice Nyako referred to a decision of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) handed down by Justice Musa in which Peters was a Defendant and declared that:
“…a subsisting judgement of a Court of coordinate jurisdiction has found and held inter alia that the property listed as Flat 58 Harley House, Marylebone Road, London, and the property listed as Flat 5, Parkview, 83-86 Prince Albert Road, St John’s Wood, London have been subject of the litigation in the suit before the High Court of the FCT, where a judgement of the Court dated 5th December 2017 was made which orders have declared that, these said properties amongst others having being legitimately acquired by the Defendant, they cannot be forfeited to the government under any circumstances.”
Justice Nyako accordingly directed that “the order of interim forfeiture that was made in this case cannot override or supersede an order of final judgement of a court of coordinate jurisdiction.“
The learned judge then ordered that in that event, those properties could not continue to be restrained by the order EFCC had obtained and consequently directed the immediate release of the London properties.
This latest court ruling follows other judgments vindicating Mr Peters from the various allegations that have been very publicly aired by EFCC. On December 5, 2017, the High Court sitting in the Federal Capital Territory declared that earnings and assets accruing to him were acquired legally through legitimate sources.
Also, on March 21, 2018, an FCT High Court voided EFCC’s unilateral declaration of him as ‘Wanted,’ describing it as ultra vires, unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of his Fundamental rights. On 7 December 2017, another FCT High Court, in a suit brought against him, declared that a donation of $60m he made to a political party was a legitimate donation and did not violate any provisions of the laws of Nigeria.