A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Friday ordered the forfeiture to the Federal Government of the $15 million allegedly offered by the former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to influence his investigation.
The state government had taken the anti-graft agency and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) before the court laying claim to the said money.
But delivering his judgment in the protracted legal tussle, the presiding judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, said the state government failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the money belonged to it, and that “it is appropriate, given factual circumstances of this case, that final order of forfeiture to the federal government be made.”
He further held that the claimant did not constitute any audit panel or public inquiry to trace and show how the unclaimed $15 million was pilfered from its coffers.
He, therefore, ordered that the money be forfeited to the treasury of the Federal Government and that it should be captured in the 2013 fiscal year allocation and be expended on people-oriented projects.
The court also held that the state government failed to establish its legitimate entitlement to the looted money, even as it viewed the resistance of the government to allow the EFCC investigate the financial transaction of Ibori from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007 (during which time he was governor) as improper.
Justice Kolawole said that the failure by the Attorney-General of the state, Charles Ajuya, who is handling the matter on behalf of the state government, to show ownership of the money ran contrary to sections 131 and 132 of the Evidence Act.
“Under this provision, the claimant has failed to lay claim to the money because he who asserts must prove,” he said.
He added that the fact that Ibori had denied knowledge of the said money upon EFCC’s investigation further spoilt the case of the claimant as the owner of the unclaimed money.
“The claimant needed to do more work. Multiplicity of affidavit does not win a case. It is not sufficient enough for the Delta State government to say the money belongs to it without tracing the source. It must be verified since Ibori had denied giving bribe to the EFCC to douse investigation into his financial transactions when he was the governor of the state from May 1999 to 2007,” he said.
He further held that one way of proving that the money was moved from the state’s coffers was for the present administration to have set up an audit committee or launched an inquiry into the accounts of the state when Ibori left office, in which case, any money missing would have been declared.
Kolawole also held that the pendency of the suit could not stop the state government from seeking a preservative order of the court until the source is traced, insisting that in the light of Ibori’s denial of ownership of the money, the said $15 million, in line with relevant laws, is deemed an unclaimed property that must be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Source: Nigerian Tribune