A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to immediately release two seized London properties belonging to the Chief Executive Officer of Aiteo Group, Mr. Benedict Peters on the grounds that the said properties legitimately belong to him.
The court vacated the interim order of forfeiture on the two choice properties granted the anti-graft agency in June 2016, on the allegations that they were proceeds of unlawful deals.
The two properties are Flat 5, Parkview, 83-86 Prince Albert Road and Flat 58 Harley House, Marylebone Road, both in London.
Delivering ruling on Friday, in a motion on notice, filed by the businessman to challenge the forfeiture of the two houses to the Federal government, Justice Binta Nyako, held that the EFCC obtained the interim order in error by suppressing and misrepresenting facts on the ownership of the two properties.
The judge agreed that the anti-graft agency in its ex-parte application which led to the granting of order of forfeiture of the two properties to the Federal government misled the court in the claim that the ownership of the London houses was traced to a former Petroleum Minister, Mrs Allison Dieziani Madueke.
Justice Nyako, in the judgment agreed that Benedict Peters had successfully established his legitimate ownership of the properties in another judgment delivered on December 5, 2017, by a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
The court said that the businessman suit marked: FCT/HC/ CV/0093/17 instituted against the EFCC had clearly established that the properties were legitimately acquired by the Aiteo Chief Executive, contrary to the claim of the antigraft agency.
Justice Nyako, held that since the judgment of the Abuja High Court which established the ownership of the two London houses, upon production of documentary evidence was not challenged or appealed against by the EFCC, he has no option than to vacate and discharge the earlier order of his court that the two properties be temporarily forfeited to the Federal government.
The judge said that the applicant having legitimately acquired the properties and having convinced the court in that regard, the two London properties cannot be forfeited to the Federal government of Nigeria under any circumstances.
“The order of interim forfeiture that was made in this case in 2016 upon the ex-parte application of EFCC cannot override or supersede an order of final judgment of a court of coordinate jurisdiction. Consequently, I hereby uphold the orders of the High Court of the FCT and order the release of the properties”.
Peters through his counsel, Nathaniel Ojonma had in 2017 filed a motion on notice to challenge the decision of the Federal High Court of 2016 in which the court upon an ex-parte application, by the EFCC, ordered that his two London properties among others be forfeited to the Federal government on the claim that their ownership was traced to the ex- petroleum minister, Mrs Madueke in the course of investigation.
The businessman, who tendered the judgment of the Abuja High Court delivered last year, in his favour had prayed Justice Nyako to vacate, discharge and set aside the interim order of forfeiture on his properties granted in favour of the Federal government.
He complained to the court that mandatory conditions precedent to the grant of the interim order of forfeiture was not complied with and that due process of law was not followed in obtaining the interim order of forfeiture by EFCC.