…banks challenge court’s jurisdiction to entertain suit
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA- Wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, has approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, asking it to commit three bank Executives to prison over their alleged refusal to unfreeze 10 bank accounts belonging to her companies.
In a contempt charge she filed through her team of lawyers led by Chief I. A. Adedipe, SAN, and Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, the former first lady, wants the three bank executives jailed for their “persistent and flagrant disobedience” of a court order that granted her access to the accounts containing aggregate sums of $5.8million and N3.5billion.
Mrs. Jonathan listed the alleged Contepmnors as the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of First Bank Nigeria Plc, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, the Chief Executive Officer of Skye Bank Plc, Mr. Tokunbo Abiru and the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank Plc, Uzoma Dozie.
She told the court that the banks blocked her and representatives of her companies from withdrawing funds from the accounts, despite an order the court made on December 5, 2017, which lifted a Post-No-Bill order the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, placed on 16 separate accounts that were linked to her.
The 10 companies which were listed in the suit as Judgement Creditors/Applicants alongside Mrs. Jonathan, are the Incorporated Trustees of Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation, Pagmat Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited, Flinchley Top Homes Limited, Incorporated Trustees of Women for Change and Development Initiative Nigeria, Transocean Property and Investment Ltd, Seagate Property Development Investment Company, Globus Integrated Services and Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited.
It will be recalled that the high court had in a ruling by Justice Binta Nyako, vacated an interim order the EFCC secured on May 30, 2017, which froze 16 accounts that were linked to the ex-first lady on the premise that they were subject of money laundering investigations.
Justice Nyako unfreezed the 16 accounts after she held that the life-span of the interim forfeiture order the court granted to the EFCC to enable it to conclude its investigations, had elapsed.
While five of the affected accounts are domiciled in Skye Bank Plc with seven of them in Diamond Bank Plc, the remaining accounts are with Union Bank Plc, First Bank Plc, Ecobank and Zenith Bank Plc.
Meanwhile, in the fresh motion, Mrs. Jonathan and the firms, told the court that the three bank Executives “have all refused to obey the orders of this honourable court and has refused to lift the restrictions placed on accounts of the applicants in flagrant disobedience of the order of this honourable court.
“That despite the service of the orders and Forms 48 and 49 of this honourable court on the respondents/contemnors, they have bluntly refused to obey the orders of this court.
“Unless this honourable court intervenes, the respondents/contemnors will continue to disobey its orders”, the applicants added.
However, in a counter-move, the three banks filed preliminary objections to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to hear the contempt proceeding Mrs. Jonathan and her firms initiated against their CEOs.
The banks appplied for an order suspending any further proceedings in the suit, as well as an order striking out or dismissing the committal proceedings for want of jurisdictional competence.
They maintained that the contempt charge constituted an abuse of judicial process, even as the banks separately prayed the court to set-aside the purported service of the Forms 48 and 49 on their CEOs.
The banks argued that Mrs. Jonathan failed to effect personal service of the contempt processes on their CEOs as required by the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act and the Rules of the court.
According to them, the condition precedent to the commencement of contempt proceedings was not fulfilled by the judgment Creditor/Respondent as required by the relevant laws.
Specifically, the CEO of First Bank Plc, Dr. Adeduntan, in a 30-paragraphed affidavit deposed to by one Sanusi Mohammad, told the court that his bank had on December 15, 2017, defreezed account number 2022646664 belonging to Mrs. Jonathan, and equally notified her that its management took a decision to close her account with the bank.
Dr. Adeduntan told the court that owing to the management decision, the bank, via a letter dated December 18, 2017, asked Mrs. Jonathan to provide the details of an account into which the balance of $3, 626, 273.71 in the said account should be transferred.
He said the former first lady, upon receiving the letter through her lawyer, demanded that she should be paid all the balance in her account in cash, insisting that all the lodgements made into the account were done in cash.
“I know as a fact and I verily believe that the Bank having complied with the order of the court to unfreeze the account, do no longer owe the 11th Judgement Creditor/Respondent (Mrs. Jonathan) any obligation as regards assisting her to violate the provisions of the Money Laundering Laws of Nigeria and normal banking practice of delivering foreign currency in large quantum in cash.
“To further put pressure on the Bank to conduct illegal and unlawful transactions contrary to extant banking rules, practices, regulations and inspite of the fact the Back had as at 15th December, 2017, complied with the order of court made on 5th December to unfreeze the account, the 11th Judgement Creditor/Respondent caused to be served on the Bank, a form 49 alleging notice of disobedience to a court order”, the deponent added.
Dr. Adeduntan told the court that Mrs. Jonathan further wrote the bank on December 27, 2017, supplying three separate accounts belonging to her lawyers and requested that some part of the funds be paid into them, with the balance handed to her in cash.
He said upon failure by the former first lady to provide any account detail in her name where funds in her unfreezed account should be transferred, the bank, on January 17, 2018, issued in her name, a Bank Cheque No. 014602 in the sum of $3, 626, 273.71, representing the total balance in her account.
He told the court that Mrs. Jonathan had since ignored a letter that requested her to visit a designated office of the Bank in Abuja to pick the Cheque.
Meantime, Justice Nyako has fixed April 11 to hear the matter.