By Sandra Umeh
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday ordered the final forfeiture of N1.83 billion, belonging to a former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Dele Ezeoba.
The court made the order for permanent forfeiture of the sum, following an application by the EFCC prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, pursuant to section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act 2006.
Joined in the suit as defendants, were Chukwuka Onwuchekwa and Aquila Leasing Ltd.
The trial judge, Justice Muslim Hassan, had on March 15, issued an interim order for forfeiture of the said sum.
Hassan had then ordered the EFCC to make a publication of same in a national newspaper, for the knowledge of interested parties.
Delivering judgment on Thursday, the judge ordered a final forfeiture of N1.825 billion to the coffers of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
He held that the EFCC, having complied with the provisions of section 17 of the Act, as well the EFCC Act and the fact that the property was unclaimed, it was appropriate to make the orders.
“Having satisfied that such 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 make an order of final forfeiture; this application is meritorious and hereby granted.
“An order is hereby made for final forfeiture of the total sum of N1.825 billion to the federal government of Nigeria,’’ Hassan ruled.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the EFCC had, while moving the application, said that the money was traced to the account of Aquila Leasing Ltd and that Ezeoba had agreed, in his statement to the EFCC, to forfeit the money.
He had said that the money was proceeds of crime fraudulently diverted from the Nigerian Navy, under the leadership of Dele Joseph Ezeoba.
The anti graft agency 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.
EFCC said that the former Naval Chief admitted 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 was the managing director.
It said that the shares were worth N2.4 billion, out of which N1.83 billion had been recovered in drafts in favour of the Federal Government.
The EFCC had therefore, sought for an order of the court to forfeit the entire N1.825 billion to the federal government.
Meanwhile, the respondent did not oppose the application for final forfeiture of the sums.
Counsel to the respondent, Mr Pascal Madu, had said that his clients were not opposed to the permanent forfeiture of the money.
He, however, said that his clients were not involved in any fraud, adding that Ezeoba, gave them the money to buy shares for him, as part of savings over the years.