EFCC Was Wrong In Freezing Ozekhome’s Accounts, Court Of Appeal Rules

The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos has dismissed an appeal filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to challenging the order directing it to unfreeze the accounts of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozhekome.

The appellate court in a unanimous judgement delivered by Justice Chidi Nwaoma Uwa held that the appeal lacks merit.

Justice Tunde Awotoye and James Abundaga are the two other members of the panel.

At the instance of the EFCC on April 3rd 2017, Justice Abdulaziz Anka of the Federal High Court, Lagos lifted a restraining order he earlier placed on the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) account of Ozekhome.

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The EFCC had obtained the interim ex parte order of forfeiture to freeze the money for 120 days, arguing that the sum of N75 million transferred to the account was proceed of unlawful activity, because it was paid to Ozekhome by the then sitting Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, whom it said it was investigating.

Ozekhome on his part had argued that the action of the EFCC was unconstitutional, had no legal justification and was a gross violation of sections 36, 37 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution.‎

He filed a motion before the Federal High Court in Lagos, urging it to set aside its earlier order freezing his chambers’ account. He alleged misrepresentation, non-disclosure, suppression of material facts and non-compliance with the rules of the lower court and Judicial authorities regulating the grant of ex parte applications by the Appellant.

Justice Anka, after hearing arguments from Ozekhome and Mr Rotimi Oyedepo for the EFCC, vacated the ex parte order and unfreeze his account with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB).

Apparently dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal alleging miscarriage of justice by the lower court.

The anti-graft agency had argued that while Ozekhome is entitled to his professional fees, he is not entitled to receive such from funds suspected to be proceeds of crime.

In dismissing the appeal, the appellate court held that the EFCC had wrongfully obtained the ex parte order to freeze the account as the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to grant same and as the defendant could not have committed any infraction to warrant his account being blocked and frozen.

The upper court further held that there was contradictory evidence shown in invoices and receipts issued by Ozekhome to Fayose and the said sum represented part payment of his professional fees in the handling of various cases for Fayose across the country.