A Lagos Division of the Federal High Court Friday ordered the permanent forfeiture of N1,442,384,857 found in the bank accounts of three firms which allegedly impersonated the consultants engaged by the Nigeria Governors Forum to analyse the Paris/London Club loan refunds due to the states.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which obtained the forfeiture order on behalf of the Nigerian government, claimed that the defendants obtained N3.5 billion from the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) by making false claims.
Listed as defendants in the final forfeiture application filed before the court were Melrose General Services Limited, WASP Networks Limited, and Thebe Wellness Services.
The firms were accused of impersonating a consortium of consulting firms engaged by the NGF for the “verification, reconciliation and recovery of over-deductions on Paris and London Club loans on the accounts of states and local governments between 1995 and 2002.”
In a PREMIUM TIMES exclusive story last year, Melrose General Services Limited was listed among the firms the EFCC was seeking an explanation from the NGF for questionable payments made, a demand that infuriated the forum led by the Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari.
According to EFCC investigators, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, enlisted the services of a consultant, Robert Mbonu of Melrose General Services Limited and Kathleen Erhimu, a staff of Access Bank, to liaise with his aides and associates to allegedly launder N3.5 billion traced to the Paris Club loan refund to states.
In the suit filed before the federal court, the EFCC said the original firms engaged by the NGF were GSCL Consulting and Bizplus Consulting Services Limited.
But according to Usman Zakari, an investigator with the EFCC, the alter ego of the first defendant, Melrose General Services Limited, Mr Mbonu, made a false representation to the NGF causing the forum to pay N3.5 billion to his company on December 14, 2016.
Mr Zakari said the money was credited into the Access Bank account of Melrose General Services Limited, adding that the respondents dissipated and laundered about N2.3bn out of the money between December 15, 2016, and January 20, 2017, leaving a balance of N1.2bn.
Mr Zakari said the anti-graft agency had recovered N220 million out of the laundered sum from the second and third respondents.
The EFCC had on October 13, 2017, obtained an interim order from the judge, Mojisola Olatoregun, placing a ‘Post No Debit’ order on the accounts containing the N1.2bn and N220m.
The judge had made the order following a plea by counsel for the EFCC, Ekene Iheanacho, who said it would best serve the interest of justice for the respondents to be ordered to forfeit the N1.4 billion temporarily to prevent them from dissipating same.
The judge, after granting the interim freezing order last year, directed the EFCC to publish the order in a national daily.
She further gave anyone interested in the funds 14 days to appear before her to show cause why the funds should not be forfeited permanently.
Subsequently, one Godwin Maduka and Linas International Limited showed up before the court, praying separately that the funds should be forfeited to them.
Mr Maduka claimed that his firm, Udemgaba Maduka & Associates, had been engaged in 2011 as a consultant by Zamfara State Government to help the state recover some hanging funds, with an agreement that it would be paid 20 percent of the recovered funds.
He urged the court to forfeit the N1.4 billion to his company to cover Zamfara State’s alleged indebtedness to him.
But the EFCC opposed Mr Maduka’s claims, contending that the suit was not a debt recovery suit and that Zamfara State was not a party to the suit.
In her ruling, Mrs Olatoregun upheld the EFCC’s argument and dismissed Mr Maduka’s claims.
On its own part, Linas International Limited said it was entitled to the payment of $6 million from the NGF.
The judge also dismissed its claims on the same grounds: that the matter was not a debt recovery suit.
Having dismissed both claims, the judge ordered the permanent forfeiture of the N1.4 billion to the Federal Government.