Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court, Lagos yesterday ordered the final forfeiture of N1.83 billion allegedly belonging to a former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Dele Ezeoba.
The court gave the order following an application by the prosecutor of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, pursuant to section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act 2006. Joined in the suit, as defendants were Chukwuka Onwuchekwa and Aquila Leasing Limited.
The trial judge had on March 15, issued an interim order of forfeiture of the said sum and ordered the EFCC to make a publication of the matter in a national newspaper for the awareness of interested parties.
Delivering judgment yesterday, Hassan ordered a final forfeiture of the sum to the Federal Government.
He said the order was appropriate since the property had remained unclaimed, particularly as the EFCC, had complied with the provisions of section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act, as well that of the EFCC Act.
“Having certified that the property is an unclaimed property and also satisfying the provisions of the law, the court shall order the final forfeiture of the said property.
“In this view, there is no other proof required to enable the court to make an order of final forfeiture; this application is meritorious and hereby granted. An order is hereby made for the final forfeiture of the total sum of N1.825 billion to the Federal Government of Nigeria,” he said.
The EFCC said the money was traced to the account of Aquila Leasing Limited, adding that Ezeoba had agreed in a statement to the EFCC to forfeit the money. He had said that the money was the proceeds of crime fraudulently diverted from the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Dele Joseph Ezeoba.
It said Ezeoba used the name of “Chukwuka Onwuchekwa” to open a fraudulent account in disguise, while he was the one who truly laundered the money.
The ant-graft agency said the former Naval Chief stated in his statement that the account was opened with Onwuchekwa’s consent while he (Ezeoba) managed it.
The commission said that in a desperate bid to further disguise and conceal the illicit source of the funds, Ezeoba entered into a memorandum of understanding to buy Aquila’s shares from Onwucheka who is the company’s managing director.
The commission said the shares were worth N2.4 billion, out of which N1.83billion had been recovered in drafts in favour of the Federal Government.
Meanwhile, the counsel to the respondent, Mr. Pascal Madu, said his clients were not opposed to the permanent forfeiture of the money, but added that they were not involved in fraud. He said Ezeoba gave them the money to buy shares for him as part of savings over the years.