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NGF: Appeal court okays final forfeiture of N1.4bn Paris Club refund

The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, yesterday, okayed the request of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the final forfeiture of N1.4billion, which a firm, Melrose General Services Limited, obtained from the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) through false claims.

Melrose is allegedly linked to outgoing Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, whose two aides, Gbenga Makanjuola and Kolawole Shittu, are being prosecuted by the Commission in respect of the matter.

Justice Cecilia Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos had on April 27, last year, ordered the final forfeiture of the said N1.4billion to the federal government.

Dissatisfied with the verdict, the firm approached the appellate court for redress, asking it to set aside the decision of the lower court.

But in its judgment on the matter, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and resolved the four contentious issues in favour of the EFCC (the first respondent).

The appellate court further held that Melrose appeal lacked merit and ordered the firm to pay N100, 000 cost to the EFCC, saying that the firm could not show that the said funds were lawfully earned by it.

It added that Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act, 2006, which the EFCC relied on to seek for the forfeiture of the said funds, was constitutional, insisting that the firm was not denied fair hearing in the matter.

Justice Tijjani Abubakar wrote the lead judgment, delivered by Justice E. Tobi, while Justice O. A. Obaseki-Adejumo concurred with the verdict.

Counsel to the Melrose, Olawale Akoni (SAN) argued the appeal, while Ekele Iheanacho appeared for EFCC, which had claimed that Melrose obtained N3.5bn from the NGF by making false claims.

Listed as defendants in the final forfeiture application filed before the Federal High Court were Melrose General Services Limited, WASP Networks Limited and Thebe Wellness Services, which 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 had on October 13, 2017, obtained an interim order from Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, placing a “Post No Debit” order on the accounts containing the N1.2bn and N220m.

The Judge had made the order following plea by Iheanacho that it would best serve the interest of justice for Melrose and others to forfeit the N1.4bn temporarily to prevent them from dissipating same.

The Judge, after granting the interim freezing order last year, directed the EFCC to publish the order in a national daily, giving anyone interested in the funds 14 days to appear before the court 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 N1.4bn 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 her verdict on the matter, Justice Olatoregun upheld the EFCC’s argument and dismissed Maduka’s claims.

On its own part, Linas International Limited said it was entitled to the payment of $6million from the NGF. But Justice Olatoregun also dismissed its claim, holding that the suit was not a debt recovery suit.

Having dismissed both claims, the Judge ordered the permanent forfeiture of the N1.4bn to the federal government.

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