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Published On: Mon, Mar 25th, 2013

Court Gives EFCC 3-Day Ultimatum to Declare Recovered Mrs. Ibru’s Asset

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Mrs Cecilia Ibru

More than four weeks after a Federal High Court in Lagos issued an ultimatum to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to declare the details of the asset recovered from the former Oceanic Bank Managing Director, Mrs Ceceilia Ibru, the agency is yet to comply.
Consequently, Justice Mohammed Idris, on February 22, gave a 72-hour ultimatum to the anti-graft agency to furnish an applicant, Boniface Okezie, with details of the property recovered from Cecilia Ibru.
The judge also compelled the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, to disclose the list of criminal prosecutions carried out by the Ministry of Justice through private lawyers, the reason for using private lawyers, and the cost of hiring them.

Mr. Idris further ruled that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, should disclose the whereabouts of the money recovered from Ms. Ibru and whether it had returned any part of the money to Oceanic Bank or its shareholders.
The court, however, turned down the plaintiff’s request for specific money paid to counsels by the apex bank for the prosecution of Ms. Ibru and the other bank ex-chiefs.
The agencies were also given a three-day ultimatum, from the day the judgment was delivered.
‘Hiding behind lawyers
However, while the CBN had rushed to the Appeal Court to challenge the ruling, the office of the AGF had surprisingly kept mum.
In their appeal, the CBN is arguing that disclosing the whereabouts of the money recovered from Ms. Ibru would also mean disclosing the money it paid to the prosecuting lawyers.
Chuks Nwachukwu, a lawyer, said that Lamido Sanusi, the CBN governor, is hiding behind his lawyers to avoid disclosing the recovered assets.
“They made it sound like they paid the entire money, which he (Mr. Sanusi) himself had put at N191 billion, to the lawyers,” Mr. Nwachukwu, who represented Mr. Okezie in the court suit, said.
“And what made this whole matter so terrible for the shareholders is that the CBN governor approved the sale of Oceanic Bank to Eco Bank for N25 billion. Whereas there were assets that could have been put into Oceanic Bank worth up to N191 billion.
“So the CBN governor impoverished or deprived the shareholders of Oceanic Bank of their assets. So we look at the whole thing as a sort of scam,” Mr. Nwachukwu added.
Mr. Okezie, President of the Progressive Shareholders Association of Nigeria, had also filed a cross appeal insisting that the appellate court compel the CBN to make public the money it paid to its lawyers.
“Our grounds of cross appeal is that the public interest far outweighs whatever may be the excuses that the CBN has put forward why it should not disclose the fees of lawyers,” said Mr. Nwachukwu.
“There is nothing sacred about fees of lawyers,” he added.
When contacted, Ugochukwu Okoroafor, the CBN spokesperson, declined to comment on the matter stating that it would be “sub-judice” to do so.
“Let’s wait for the court to decide. We’ll abide by the ruling of the court,” Mr. Okoroafor said when contacted over the telephone.
Disobedient EFCC
While delivering his ruling last month, Mr. Idris admonished the EFCC for its failure to avail the applicant of the required information, adding that none of his questions “threatens national security.”
The applicant instituted the suit in December 2012, under the Freedom of Information, FOI, Act, urging the court to compel the EFCC and the CBN to disclose the total cash and value of property recovered from Ms. Ibru.
“There has been no attempt whatsoever by the EFCC to comply with the order of the court,” said Mr. Nwachukwu.
During the proceedings leading to the ruling in February, the commission had washed its hands off the prosecution of the former bank chiefs, insisting that it was “the baby of Mr. Sanusi.”
Wilson Uwujaren, the EFCC Spokesperson, when contacted on the phone asked: “Are you calling on behalf of the applicant?
“Anyway, I’ll call you back, I’m in a meeting at the moment.”
He didn’t call back.
Mr. Nwachukwu said that he is preparing contempt proceedings against Ibrahim Lamorde, the chairman of the EFCC.
“It’s not a way that I wish to go but it’s a way that I’m being compelled to go,” Mr. Nwachukwu said.
“I don’t think it’s necessary, the present chairman was not there when this matter took place, so I have no wish to embarrass him. So I do hope he would find it needful to comply with the order of the court and tell as much as he knows concerning this.”
AGF’S delay
The judge had also directed the office of the AGF to abide by the FOI Act which requires all public institutions to disclose information about their structure and process.
Unlike the anti graft agency, the AGF office did not decline to provide the requested information, but had sought for more time to do it.
Phone calls to Ambrose Momoh, Spokesperson for the AGF Office, were also not successful as his two lines were switched off.
By the provision of the FOI Act, where an information is sought, the required public institution is expected to provide same within seven days.
“The judgment came over a year after the request was sent to him (the AGF), so it was more than sufficient time,” Mr. Nwachukwu said.
“Under the Act it’s seven days within which to respond, but now he’s had over a year,” he added.
Source: Premium Times

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