Appeal Court refuses to unfreeze Ex-CJ’s account

The  Court of Appeal has explained why it refused to unfreeze the Zenith Bank account of a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike (retd), who is being prosecuted for allegedly using his then office to confer corrupt or unfair advantage on himself.

The Court of Appeal had delivered a summary of the ruling on December 7, but our correspondent on Sunday sighted a copy of the full ruling detailing the reasons Umezulike’s appeal against the freezing order was dismissed.

A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, unanimously agreed with the decision of Justice A.M. Liman of the Federal High Court in Enugu that there was no legal basis to grant the prayer sought by the former Chief Judge.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had through an ex parte application obtained the order freezing Umezulike’s account from the Federal High Court in Enugu on February 23, 2017, but later charged and subsequently arraigned him before the High Court of Enugu State on July 4, 2017.

The anti-graft agency had alleged that the Zenith Bank account was bearing N50m connected with the proceeds of the crime for which it was prosecuting the former Chief Judge.

Umezulike had later applied to the Federal High Court, asking for an order setting aside the freezing order.

But Justice Liman, on June 2, 2017, dismissed the application.

Through his counsel, Prof. Agu Agu, Umezulike later filed an appeal against the June 2, 2017 decision of the Federal High Court.

The EFCC, through its counsel, Mr. Wahab Shittu, had opposed the appeal.

But in dismissing the appeal, Justice Ogunwumiju who delivered the lead ruling of the Court of Appeal, agreed with Justice Liman who had held that “where a freezing order is made by one court, and a trial is instituted in another court,” the court which originally granted the freezing order “may lose the power to review its earlier order.”

The Federal High Court had added that “but the court trying the charge may be entitled, in appropriate cases, to review the terms of the freezing order.”

Agreeing, Justice Ogunwumiju held that although the order of the Enugu Division of the Federal High Court delivered on February 23, 2017, had lapsed after 60 days, Umezulike could only file any “necessary application” before the High Court of Enugu State where he is being prosecuted.

The lead ruling of the Court of Appeal read in part, “However, I need to state that by the terms of the order, the order made on February 23, 2017 should have automatically lapsed after 60 days on April 23, 2017.

“As of the time the ruling at the lower court was given on June 2, 2017, the order had abated and no longer existed.

“The records do not reveal that any other subsequent order was sought for nor obtained. In effect, there is no existing lawful order of court freezing the account of the appellant as of now.

“As things stand now, the parties are at liberty to make appropriate applications before the court where the substantive criminal trial is pending.”

The Court of Appeal also held that it could not grant the appellant’s alternative prayer which sought the transfer of the case before the Federal High Court to the Enugu State High Court.

Justice Ogunwumiju held that “it would be an injudicial intrusion by this court into that trial” to grant such a prayer which she said was “inappropriate by reason of being legally misconceived.”

She ruled, “That would be an abuse of the powers of the appellate court,” adding that, “The appeal is devoid of merit and is hereby dismissed. Appeal dismissed.”

Two other members of the panel, Justices Ignatius Agube and Rita Pemu agreed with the lead ruling.

In his contribution, Justice Agube held that the Federal High Court’s ex-parte order had automatically lapsed “if the matter was not charged to court or the order renewed.”

He added, “I abide by the opinion of my Lord on the need for parties to make the necessary applications before the Court where the substantive Criminal trial is pending.”

He too rejected the application for the transfer of the application to the High Court of Enugu State where the former Chief Judge is being tried.

The EFCC had on July 14, 2017, arraigned Umezulike on one count of using his office to confer corrupt or unfair advantage on himself.

The commission alleged that the defendant in February 2014, Umelzulike invited to the launching of his book and received donation of N10m from one Prince Arthur Eze, who was a litigant in pending civil matters presided over by the defendant as the then the Chief Judge.

Source: ( Punch Newspaper )

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