Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos Friday ordered the forfeiture of N1.44bn allegedly obtained by three firms from the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF).
The money, belonging to the NGF, was found in the firms’ bank accounts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The anti-graft agency accused the firms of impersonating consultants hired by the NGF to analyse the Paris/London Club loan refunds due to the states.
On October 13, 2017, the EFCC obtained an interim forfeiture order from the court, which placed a “Post No Debit” instruction on the accounts containing the N1.2bn and N220m.
The EFCC alleged that the firms obtained N3.5bn from the NGF by making false claims.
The firms are first defendant Melrose General Services Limited, second defendant WASP Networks Limited and third defendant Thebe Wellness Services.
They were accused of impersonating a consortium of consulting firms engaged by the governors’ forum 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.”
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 N3.5bn traced to the Paris Club loan refund to states.
The commission said that the original firms engaged by the Governors’ Forum were GSCL Consulting and Bizplus Consulting Services Limited.
But an EFCC investigator, Usman Zakari, said the alter ego of Melrose General Services Limited, Robert Mbonu, allegedly made a false representation to the NGF, causing it to pay N3.5bn to his company on December 14, 2016.
According to Zakari, the money was credited into the Access Bank account of Melrose General Services Ltd, 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.
Zakari said the anti-graft agency had recovered N220m out of the laundered sum from the second and third respondents.
Justice Olatoregun’s October 13, 2017 interim order followed a prayer by EFCC counsel Ekene Iheanacho, who said it would best serve the interest of justice for the respondents to be ordered to forfeit the N1.4bn temporarily to prevent them from dissipating same.
While granting Iheanacho’s application, the judge directed the EFCC to publish the order in a national daily.
She 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 Prince Godwin Maduka and Linas International Limited showed up before the court, praying separately that the funds should be forfeited to them.
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 per cent of the recovered funds.