DELTA GOVT, FG BATTLE OVER IBORI'S $15M
BY IKECHUKWU NOCHIRI
ABUJA - The Delta State Government has gone before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to challenge moves by the Federal Government to claim the $15 million allegedly given to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, by the jailed former Governor of the State, Chief James Ibori, who left ofice in 2007.
The state, via an application by its Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Charles Ajuyah, SAN, argued that the alleged money legitimately belongs to it, even as it urged the high court to issue an order, remitting the fund to the Delta State treasury.
It will be recalled that the Federal Government had on July 24, filed an ex-parte motion before the same court, wherein it sought to take possession of the money, which is equivalent of N150 million.
The Federal Government which disclosed that the cash was received by officers of the EFCC from an undisclosed agent of the ex-governor, told the court that the commission under its former Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, deposited the money into the strong room of CBN, on April 26, 2007.
It however, noted that Ibori had since denied giving the cash to either the EFCC or any of its officers.
Consequently, the Federal Government alongside the Attorney General of the Federation and the EFCC, who were listed in the suit as the 1st to 3rd applicants respectively, prayed the court for 'an interim order forfeiting the sum of $15m being an unclaimed property in possession of CBN to the Federal Government pending the publication and hearing of the motion on notice for the final forfeiture order of the said property.
As well as, 'an order of this honourable court directing the publication in any national newspaper of the interim order under relief 1 above, for anyone who is interested in the property, to appear before this honourable court to show cause within 14 days, why the final order of forfeiture should not be made in favour of Federal Government of Nigeria.'
Money exclusive property of Delta State - Counsel
However, Delta State, in its application which is dated August 10, maintained that the Federal Government was bereft of the right of ownership of the money, insisting that $15 million was offered when Ibori held sway as Governor of the State.
In a 35-paragraphed affidavit attached in support of the application, Delta State maintained that the release of the money would facilitate current developmental projects in the state.
Besides, the state, in its affidavit deposed to by one Nikiru Bridget Emakpor, a legal officer in the Delta State Ministry of Justice, noted that Ibori was a governor of the state between May 29, 1999 and May 29, 2007, the period the money in dispute was allegedly offered to officers of the EFCC with a view to compromising investigation into his alleged involvement in acts of corruption.
Consequently, it argued that the $15 million was the exclusive property of the state and it is therefore entitled to collect same, being the bona fide owner.
According to the affidavit, 'any money, asset or property recovered from Ibori rightly belonged to Delta State and same should be returned to it as it has always maintained its entitlement to any asset recovered from Ibori.'
The deponent further averred that 'any denial by Ibori in respect of the money cannot affect entitlement of the state to the amount.'
Suit adjourned till Sept 1
The state said the reason it did not formally apply for payment of the money was in view of pending appeals before both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, saying it did not want to prejudice the outcome of the appeal cases.
Moreover, the state claimed that all monies, assets and property recovered from Mr. Joshua Dariye, former Governor of Plateau State were returned to Plateau State, just like those recovered from Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa were returned to Bayelsa State.
It argued that there should be no legal basis to treat the case of Delta State any different from others, saying it is in the interest of justice that the money should be released to Delta State.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole has adjourned argument on who should be rightful owner of the controversial money till September 17.
The judge had earlier maintained that if on that date, no one showed up to lay claim to the money, the $15 million would be forfeited to the Federal Government.
FG asks court to grant it ownership of money
The ultimatum followed argument by EFCC lead prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, who urged the court to grant the Federal Government possession of the money.
Besides, in a 14 paragraph affidavit deposed by one Bello Yahaya who was one of the investigators assigned by the EFCC to investigate the criminal case against Ibori, he told the court that: 'while the investigation was going on, on April 25, 2007, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the then Chairman of the EFCC called the investigation team headed by Mr Ibrahim Lamorde, the then Director of Operations, to pick up cash in the sum of USD 15, 000, 000 given to him and the Commission through an undisclosed agent of the said James Ibori.
'That upon picking up the said USD 15, 000, 000, we deposited same on April 26, 2007 with the CBN which was duly acknowledged and signed for by one M.M El-Yallud, a staff working in strong room 1 of the CBN.
'That from the said April 26, 2007, the money remained in the custody of the CBN till date. The issue was raised by me in my affidavit sworn to on January 9, 2008 in opposition to James Ibori's bail application when he was eventually charged to court for Money Laundering Offences.
'James Ibori denied through his reply to counter affidavit dated January 10, 2008, of giving the sum of USD 15, 000, 000, to EFCC or its officials. That ever since April, 2007, no one has claimed ownership of the said sum and it has since remained unclaimed money in the strong room of the CBN.
'That the said sum if left untouched and unspent in the state it was kept in the strong room since April, 2007, may eventually be destroyed, defaced, mutilated and become useless.
'That it is in the interest of justice to, in the interim, make an order of forfeiture to the Federal Government of Nigeria and allow publication to be made in the National Newspaper to alert any interested member of the public to come out within 14 days to show their interest, failure to which this honourable court will make an order of final forfeiture in favour of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
EFCC to abide by court judgment
'That the EFCC is ready to abide by the order that this honourable court will eventually make. It is in the interest of justice to grant this application,' he added.
It would be recalled that Ibori, 49, who was Governor of oil-rich Delta State between 1999 and 2007, was sentenced by a Southwark Crown Court in London for 13 years following his alleged complicity in a $250 million fraud while he was in power.