…says disputed building still intact,
…..as court adjourns for ex-first lady to tender evidence
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Monday, accused the wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, of lying before the Federal High Court in Abuja that her property was illegally demolished.
EFCC, in a 14-paragraphed counter-affidavit that was deposed to by one of its lead investigators, Mr. Kolawole Mukaila, told the court that the said property which was registered in the name of Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation/Women For Change and Development Initiative, a pet project initiated by the former first lady, was still intact.
Mukaila said he was a member of a special task force investigating alleged amounts of money laundered by Mrs. Jonathan, “into various accounts and properties purchased, which are disproportionate to her known source of income”.
It will be recalled that the high court had on January 22, ordered an inquiry into the alleged illegal demolition of the property which has been subject of litigation between Mrs. Jonathan and the anti-graft agency.
EFCC had approached the court for an order of interim attachment/forfeiture of assets and properties of the foundation.
In an ex-parte motion that was signed by its lawyer, Mr. Benjamin Manji, the agency prayed the court to grant it the ownership of Plot No. 1960, Cadastral Zone A05 Maitama District and Plot No. 1758, Cadastral Zone A00, Business District in Abuja.
It equally sought for “An order stopping any disposal, conveyance, mortgage, lease, sale or alienation or otherwise of the property/asset”.
However, Mrs. Jonathan, in a swift reaction, filed a motion to challenge the powers of the Commission to take possesion of assets of the Foundation.
The former first lady said she got wind of EFCC’s plans and decided to file a counter-motion in opposition to the interim forfeiture order request.
She prayed the court to strike out EFCC’s ex-parte Originating Motion dated September 20, 2017, on the ground that the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the application which she said was legally defective.
Meanwhile, when the matter came up for hearing at the last adjourned date, Mrs. Jonathan’s lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, accused EFCC of resorting to self-help, alleging that it instigated the demolition of the disputed property.
Following a denial by EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Rimamsomte Ezekiel, that the agency was not aware of the alleged demolition, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba adjourned to get a report on the actual state of the said property.
At the resumed proceeding on Monday, EFCC, in its report, told the court that contrary to Mrs. Jonathan’s claim, it said the property it applied to seize from the Foundation was still standing.
The Commission which tendered four picture-exhibits to prove its claim, told the court that the Federal Capital Development Authority/Development Control, only demolished “a mini Chalet” that was constructed without approval.
It insisted that most of the depositions Mrs. Jonathan made in the affidavit where she claimed that the disputed property was demolished, “were untrue, false and aimed at misleading the court”.
According to EFCC, “The property which the applicant applied to this court to forfeit, known as Plot No. 1758 Cadatsral Zone, A00 Central Business District Abuja, is still existing and was never demolished by any person or group of persons”.
It alleged that Ozehkome misrepresented facts by making the court to believe that the entire structure was demolished by EFCC officials in conjunction with the FCDA, “whereas it was only a mini Chalet situated behind the main structure that was demolished by FCDA/Development Control, due to non approval”.
“That upon enquiry from FCDA/Development Control, I was reliably informed that Development Control under the FCDA carried out the said demolition of the Chalet and the reason is that the building of the Chalet has no government approval as specified by law.
“That I know as a fact that the Applicant or any of its officer has no hand in the said demolition. That the FCDA/Development Control is a different and distinct unit of the Federal Government from the Applicant, with different mandates”, Mukaila added.
However, Ozehkome, who told the court that he was only served him with a copy of the counter-affidavit on Sunday, discribed EFCC’s claim as “a lie from the pit of hell”.
He told the court that out of four buildings belonging to the former first lady’s Foundation, two were “wantonly demolished”.
“My lord, what they did was to go to the back to take pictures of the ones still standing. Thank God we have pictures of the demolished building and we even have the CD of the demolition.
“More so, even if it was only one room that was demolished in a matter that was already before a court, does that not amount to a gross abuse of the principle of lis-pendis?
“We are going to show that they resorted to self-help and took laws into their hands. EFCC which is an agent of the government cannot claim that it did not insitigate the demolition of the property by another agency of the same government.
“In view of the lies contained in this counter-affidavit, my lord we shall be asking for an adjournment to enable us to file additional affidavit and also tender more evidence to prove that EFCC resorted to self-help”, Ozehkome pleaded.
Owing to the request, Justice Dimgba adjourned the matter till April 12.
EFCC had in an affidavit it filed to support its bid to take over assets belonging to Mrs. Jonathan’s Foundation, told the court that it had sometimes in 2016, received via inteligence report to the office of its Executive Chairman, an alleged case of conspiracy and money laundering.
According to Mukaila who also deposed to the affidavit, “My team swung into action to conduct a descreet investigation by writing letters to Ecobank, Diamond bank, Corporate Affairs Commission and AGIS.
“That in the course of investigation, it was revealed from the responses from the C.A.C and Abuja Geographical Information Systems that the plots of land were allocated to Ariwabai Aruera Reach out Foundation belonging to the former first lady, Patience Jonathan and her allies.
“That investigation further reveals the accounts held by Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation had the former first lady, Patience Jonathan as one of the trustees and signatories of the account. Copies of the response from Diamond bank and Ecobank are herebu attached and marked as Exhibit EFCC 2A- 2B respectively.
“That investigation also revealed that the plots of land were allocated in 2010 and the Certificate of Occupancy was issued in 2011.
“That all the above stated payment/transfers/purchases had no contract award backing it up whatsoever and as such was reasonably suspected to be fraudulent payments and an illegal dissipation of the nation’s resources”, he added.
In a counter-motion, Mrs. Jonathan and the Board of Trustees of the Foundation, argued that EFCC’s application was an abuse of court process.
She said it was filed “to overreach the Fundamental Human Rights suit pending before this court in suit no. FHC/CS/586/2017, filed by one of the trustees of Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation, against the said EFCC, with respect to the assets/properties of the said Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation, sought to be forfeited by the EFCC through the instant ‘Exparte Originating Summons”.
In a six-paragraphed affidavit that was deposed on her behalf by one Chinedu Maduba, Mrs. Jonathan told the court that the NGO was founded in 2006 when she was the first lady of Bayelsa state, in conjunction with other trustees.
“That the said NGO was registered as a charitable organization and in the last 10 years, it has carried out several charitable programmes, in line with its objectives. Some of the programmes include vocational training for women, treatment of people with heart and kidney problems within the country and abroad, as well as assisting less priviledged generally.
“That recently, the Respondent herein began to harrass Mrs. Patience Jonathan, her relatives and the NGO, by indiscriminately freezing their accounts, even without court order, breaking into their properties, sealing off the NGO’s properties without an order of court. That the actions of the Respondent led to the filing of a Fundamental Human Right suit against the Respondent by Mrs. Patience Jonathan”, the deponent added