A Federal High Court in Lagos friday ordered the temporary forfeiture of the sum of $153,310,000, which a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, allegedly siphoned from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and stashed in three banks in the country.
The presiding judge of the court, Justice Muslim Hassan, made the order in favour of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which appeared before him with an ex-parte application seeking the temporary forfeiture of the funds.
Out of the allegedly stolen $153.3 million, a sum of N23,446,300,000 (after convertion to Naira) was kept in Sterling Bank Plc, and another converted sum of N9,080,000,000 in First Bank and $5 million in Access Bank Plc.
In a nine-paragraph affidavit filed in support of the ex parte application, an EFCC investigator, Moses Awolusi, claimed that the anti-graft agency discovered through its investigations how Alison-Madueke sometime in December 2014, invited the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank Plc, Nnamdi Okonkwo, to her office where they hatched the plan of how a cash sum of $153,310,000 would be moved from NNPC to Okonkwo to be saved for her, a charge which Okonkwo has denied, while Alison-Madueke had not be reached or interrogated.
According to Awolusi, Alison-Madueke instructed Okonkwo to ensure that the money was “neither credited into any known account nor captured in any transaction platforms” of Fidelity Bank.
Fidelity Bank officials who spoke to THISDAY last night insisted that they received the money in the normal cause of their banking transaction with NNPC.
Awolusi said Okonkwo accepted and implemented the deal leading to the movement of $153,310,000 from NNPC to the bank.
He said two former Group Executive Directors of Finance and Account of NNPC, B.O.N. Otti and Stanley Lawson, helped the former minister to move the cash from NNPC, Abuja to the headquarters of the bank in Lagos.
Awolusi alleged that in a desperate bid to conceal the source of the money, Okonkwo, upon receiving it, instructed the Country Head of Fidelity Bank, Mr. Martin Izuogbe, to take $113,310,000 cash out of the money to the Executive Director, Commercial and Institutional Bank, Sterling Bank Plc, Lanre Adesanya, to keep.
He alleged that the remaining $40million was taken in cash to the Executive Director, Public Sector Accountant, First Bank, Dauda Lawal, to keep.
The investigator said out of the $113,310,000 handed over to Adesanya, a sum of $108,310,000 was invested in an off balance sheet investment using Sterling Asset Management Trustees Limited.
He said the $108,310,000 was subsequently changed to N23,446,300,000 and saved in Sterling Bank.
Awolusi said the EFCC had recovered the N23.4billion in draft and had registered it as an exhibit marked, EFCC 01.
The investigator said the EFCC had also recovered another $5 million out of the money banked with Access Bank Plc.
He said the $5 million was recovered in draft and had been registered as an exhibit marked, EFCC 02.
According to him, First Bank’s Executive Director, Lawal, had converted the $40 million kept with him to N9,080,000,000.
Awolusi, however, said the EFCC had recovered that also in draft and registered it as Exhibit EFCC 03.
Moving the ex-parte application yesterday, the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, urged Justice Hassan to order the temporary forfeiture of the funds to the federal government and to order Sterling Bank and Lawal, who were joined as defendants in the application, as well as any other interested parties, to appear in court within two weeks to show cause why the funds should not be permanently forfeited to the federal government.
Oyedepo, who said the application was brought pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act No. 14, 2006 and Section 44(2) of the 1999 Constitution, said granting the application was in the best interest of justice.
After hearing him out, Justice Hassan ordered the temporary forfeiture of the monies to the federal government.
He also gave Sterling Bank and any other interested party 14 days to appear before him to prove the legitimacy of the monies, failing which the funds would be permanently forfeited to the federal government.
The judge therefore, adjourned the case to January 24, 2017.
However, it should be noted that this was an ex-parte application for which none of the parties has had an opportunity to defend.