The Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered the forfeiture of N1.8 billion recovered from a former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Dele Ezeoba.
Justice Muslim Hassan ruled on an application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) praying for a permanent forfeiture of the N1, 825,000,000 allegedly diverted fraudulently by the one-time air chief.
The anti-graft agency said the money was traced to the account of a company, Aquila Leasing Limited.
It said Admiral Ezeoba allegedly used the name of Chukwuka Onwuchekwa to open a fraudulent account while he (Ezeoba) was the one who “truly” laundered the money.
EFCC said the former Naval chief said in his statement that the account was opened with Onwuchekwa’s consent while he (Ezeoba) managed it.
It said: “The money is proceed of crime fraudulently diverted from the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of Dele Joseph Ezeoba. Neither the signature used in opening the account nor the drivers’ licence used in opening the account is his.”
Justice Hassan held that the EFCC complied with Section 17 of the Advanced Fee fraud Act, as well as the EFCC Act, adding that the fact that the money was unclaimed meant it was appropriate to make an order forfeiting it.
The Judge said: “Satisfied that such property is an unclaimed property, and also satisfying the provisions of the law, the court shall order the final forfeiture of the said property.
“In view of this, there is no other proof required to enable the court make an order of final forfeiture. This application is meritorious and hereby granted. An order is hereby made for final forfeiture of the total sum of N1.825 billion to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
According to the EFCC, in a “desperate bid” to further disguise and conceal the illicit source of the funds, Ezeoba entered into a memorandum of understanding to buy Aquila’s shares from Onwucheka, who is the firm’s managing director.
It said the shares was worth N2, 378,000,000, out of which N1.8 billion has been recovered in drafts in favour of the Federal Government.
EFCC said the sum “is reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activity.”
An EFCC operative, Adamu Usman, in a supporting affidavit, said he was part of a special task force assigned to investigate an intelligence report received against the respondents (Onwuchekwa and Aquila Leasing).
He said investigations showed that Ezeoba, in a bid to conceal the proceeds of crime, fraudulently opened an account using Onwuchekwa’s name as the account owner while he (Ezeoba) “was the one who truly laundered the money”.
“The same Dele Joseph Ezeoba has stated in his statement that he is in agreement with the first respondent that the sum of N2,378,000,000 be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“Out of the amount, the sum of N1,825,000,000 only has been recovered in drafts in favour of the Federal Government,” the commission said.