By Innocent Anaba
The woes of embattled ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo, worsened, yesterday, with a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordering the forfeiture of his multi-billion naira property, following his refusal to appear in court to stand trial over allegation of money laundering and stealing of about N34 billion belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA.
Property to be forfeited by Tompolo include; a River Crew Change Boat named MUHA – 15, the property known as “Tompolo Dockyard”, by the end of Enerhen Road, Effurun, Warri and the property known as “Tompolo Yard”, at the end of Chevron Clinic Road, next to Next Oil, Edjeba, Warri.
Others are, the Diving School at Kurutie, at Escravos River, the property known as “Tompolo House” at Oporaza Town, opposite the Palace and any other property discovered by the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, moveable and immoveable, belonging to the Tompolo.
Trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba made the order following an ex-parte application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
It will be recalled that Justice Buba had on January 14 issued a bench warrant against Tompolo and ordered his arrest for failing to honour a court summons in respect of a 40-count of alleged N34bn fraud levelled against him and nine others by the EFCC.
Those charged alongside Tompolo are: Patrick Akpobolokemi, Global West Vessel, Odimiri Electrical Ltd, Kime Engozu. Boloboere Ltd, Rex Elem, Destre Ltd, Gregory Mbonu and Captain Warrendi Enisuoh.
The suspects allegedly diverted N34 billion which accrued from the public private partnership agreement between NIMASA and Global West Vessel Specialist Limited for personal use.
But on February 8, counsel to Tompolo brought an application for the vacation of the order.
Th judge in bench ruling decline the application and renewed the order for arrest of Tompolo.
Vanguard gathered that Tompolo who had wanted to appeal the court’s ruling could not do so, as the court did not release a copy of the ruling till yesterday.
Meanwhile, at the resumed hearing of the matter yesterday, counsel to EFCC, Festus Keyamo told the court that the warrant of arrest issued by the court had not been executed despite the “best efforts” of all the security agencies in the country.
He stated that all the nation’s security agencies were involved in the search for Tompolo but his whereabouts are not known yet.
He thereafter, sought the leave of court to amend the charge by removing the name of Tompolo from the charge, so that the trial of the other accused persons could commence.
Keyamo also drew the attention of the court to the ex-parte application dated February 18, 2016 praying the court for an order authorising EFCC to seize property belonging to the former militant leader.
But all the defence counsel opposed the application on the grounds that they were not served with copies of the motion.
Dr. Joseph Nwobike SAN (counsel to the 2nd defendant), Mr. Wale Akoni SAN (counsel to 7 & 8 defendants) along with other defence lawyers argued that it was necessary for them to have copies of the motion ex-parte in the interest of justice and fairness.
Justice Buba in a short ruling held that an ex-parte application needs not to be served on parties, adding that the motion was specifically directed to the first accused (Tompolo) who was neither in court or represented by a lawyer.
Arguing the ex-parte application, Keyamo prayed the court to order the forfeiture of property belonging to Tompolo pending the time he would appear in court.
He stated after three months, the court can order the property to be auctioned if he (Tompolo) did not make himself available in court.
In another ruling,Justice Buba held that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 empowers the court to seize property of an accused who refused to face trial.
The court noted that even though Tompolo refused to appear in court, he briefed his lawyers and through them sought to vacate the order of his arrest.
He ordered forfeiture of property belonging to Tompolo pending the time he choose to appear in court.
The following assets belonging to Tompolo were attached and to be forfeited; Property at No. 1 Chief Agbamu Close DDPA Extension Warri (Effurun), Delta State among others.
Justice Buba refused to attach all the limited liability companies listed by the EFCC until their prove of ownership is revealed to the court.
The Limited liability companies include; Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, Odimiri Electrical Limited and Kime Engozu, Boloboere Property and Estate Limited, Rex Elem, Destre Consult limited, Gregory Mbonu and Captain Warredi Enisuoh respectively.
In an affidavit in support of the motion exparte, EFCC averred that Tompolo was invited on several occasions to come and answer to the allegations of fraudulent activities leveled against him which was uncovered during investigation.
The commission stated that Tompolo was charged before the court to answer to charges leveled against him when he persistently refused and failed to honour the several invitations extended to him.
The matter has been adjourned till March 22 for hearing.