Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday ordered the forfeiture of N1, 442,384,857.84 belonging to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) to the Federal Government.
The sum was found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the bank accounts of three firms accused of impersonating consultants hired by the NGF to analyse the Paris/London Club loan refunds due to the states.
The order is sequel to an October 13, 2017 interim forfeiture order obtained by the EFCC from the court, which placed a “Post No Debit” order on the accounts containing the N1.4billion and N220million.
The EFCC, which also secured Friday’s order, alleged that the firms obtained N3.5billion from the NGF by making false claims.
The firms are – Melrose General Services Limited, WASP Networks Limited and Thebe Wellness Services.
They were accused of impersonating a consortium of consulting firms engaged by the NGF for the “verification, reconciliation and recovery of over-deductions on Paris and London Club Loans on the accounts of states and local governments between 1995 and 2002.”
The EFCC said the original firms engaged by the Forum were GSCL Consulting and Bizplus Consulting Services Limited.
But an EFCC investigator, Usman Zakari, said the alter ego of Melrose General Services Limited, Robert Mbonu, made a false representation to the NGF, causing it to pay N3.5billion to his company on December 14, 2016.
Zakari said the money was credited into the Access Bank account of Melrose General Services Limited, adding that the respondents dissipated and laundered about N2.3billion out of the money between December 15, 2016, and January 20, 2017, leaving a balance of N1.2billion.
Zakari said the anti-graft agency had recovered N220million out of the laundered sum from the second and third respondents.
Justice Olatoregun’s October 13, 2017 interim order followed a prayer by EFCC counsel, Ekene Iheanacho, who said it would best serve the interest of justice for the respondents to be ordered to forfeit the N1.4billion temporarily to prevent them from dissipating same.
In upholding Iheanacho’s application, the judge directed the EFCC to publish the order in a national daily.
She gave anyone interested in the funds 14 days to appear before her to show cause why the funds should not be forfeited permanently.
Subsequently, one Prince Godwin Maduka and Linas International Limited showed up before the court, praying separately that the funds should be forfeited to them.
Maduka claimed that his firm, Udemgaba Maduka & Associates, had been engaged in 2011 as a consultant by Zamfara State Government to help the state recover some hanging funds, with an agreement that it would be paid 20 per cent of the recovered funds.
He urged the court to forfeit the N1.4billion to his company to cover Zamfara State’s alleged indebtedness to him.
But the EFCC opposed Maduka, contending that the suit was not a debt recovery suit and that Zamfara State was not a party to the suit.
In a ruling on Friday, Justice Olatoregun upheld the EFCC’s argument and dismissed Maduka’s claims.