A Federal Capital Territory High Court, Wednesday, vacated an earlier ex-parte order freezing the Paris Club Refund Account of Delta State Government over consultancy row with Mauritz Walton Nig. Ltd.
Before unfreezing the account, Justice Yusuf Halilu, the trial Judge, held that the issue of territorial competence of the court which Alex Izinyon (SAN), counsel for the Delta State Government, had raised on the last adjourned date, must be resolved first, considering that it is fundamental to the case.
The Judge resolved the issue in favour of the plaintiff, Mauritz Walton Nig. Ltd.
Justice Halilu added, “For intent and purpose, the job was to be carried in Abuja, the court has jurisdiction over the matter”, he ruled.
In vacating the court’s earlier order to froze the account domiciled with the Zenith Bank (3rd respondent), the court accepted the submission of Izinyon that there was ‘concealment of fact’ on the part of the plaintiff.
The Judge said: “I have gone through and read and read again (letter of disengagement of Mauritz Walton). I will not much dwell on that document for now until the main issue comes up.
“The question is would the court have granted the interim order of freezing the account? Ordinarily, it would not have matter whether the letter was presented before the court or not by the plaintiff.
“It is more reasonable and fair to vacate the order in view of the fact Izinyon drew my attention to the document which was concealed from the court by the plaintiff. It is fundamental to the matter. I hereby set aside the entry order”, he held.
Justice Halilu cautioned counsel to always present every fact before the court and leave it to determine the relevance of such documents.
The court thereafter adjourned till August 28 for the hearing of the substantive matter.
It could be recalled that an FCT High Court froze the Delta State account on alleged failure of the state government to pay consultancy fees to Mauritz Walton Nig. Ltd.
The state government reportedly owes Mauritz Walton Nigeria Ltd, the sum of $27,274,135 and N3bn for facilitating the refund of excess deductions made from its monthly allocations for servicing the Paris Club foreign loan.
The court had ordered Zenith Bank to set up an escrow account for the frozen fund pending the determination of the Motion on Notice. Zenith Bank is a co-defendant in the suit.
The court bared the state government from accessing the $27.2m and N3bn in the said account.
Mauritz Walton Nig Ltd, claimed that the frozen sum is what was due to it as consultancy fee from the money the state received as “proceeds of the refund of excess deductions on foreign loans and miscellaneous charges (aka Paris-London Club Refund).”
Mauritz Walton Nig Ltd said going by their contract with the Delta State Government, the company was entitled to 30 per cent of the total sum received by the state government.
Mauritz Walton Nig Ltd is said to have assisted some state governments in computing and negotiating the refund of the excess deductions on the foreign loans.
However, in reaction to the order freezing the Paris-Club bank account, counsel to Delta state government, Izonyi (SAN), approached the court to vacate its ex-parte order.
He also urged the court to accelerate the process in the interest of the public
On the last adjourned date, August 15, the court reserved ruling on the application.
Izinyon had urged the court to vacate the interim order freezing the said account on grounds that the order was made based on ‘concealment of facts’
Izinyon pleaded with the court to dismiss and strike out the defendant’s suit, resting his application on three prayers.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria held that apart from the fact the defendant concealed some facts from court in making the order in freezing the account, the court also lacks territorial jurisdiction to entertain the case.
Izinyon held that the plaintiff failed to tell the court that the contract entered into in 2014 as the time the plaintiff wanted payment in 2016, had already been terminated.
“He didn’t show the court a document that shows that contract was terminated on 10 March 2016. That document was not presented to the court but showed only the letter of engagement without showing disengagement.
“One of the conditions is that the work will be concluded in three months. The engagement letter was issued in 2014. But the contract was terminated in 2016 and plaintiff was told a new hand had been hired. A letter is also here of November 2016, which the plaintiff made a passionate plea to review their disengagement, which also said that we are open to renegotiate fees”, Izinyon said.
He also held that all the actions, signing of documents took place in Asaba, Delta State, and the plaintiff was told to report to the state government in Asaba and therefore ought to file the suit in Delta State.
Izinyon argued further that the plaintiff ought go to court to seek redress for termination of the contract at that point in time rather than asking for renegotiation.”This is self induced, they went to sleep until first week of August 2017, to bring the case”, he said.
He also said there are three suits filed against the respondents of the same subject matter which amounts to an abuse of court process.
He therefore urged the court to discharge, dismiss and strike out the suit in its entirety.
However, counsel to the plaintiff, Emeka Okoro, said the application to vacate freezing of the account should be discontinuance. He said the prayer was not competent.
He said: “The application being moved today is more than seven days, because of the rules of the court that application can only be moved within seven days. We know it was filed but if it has not been moved it is regarded as dormant”, he said.
He submitted that the time of moving the freezing application, there was no material suppressed by the applicants.
He pleaded with the court not to allow the defendants not to take the statement of pleading to renegotiate out of context. “We have done a job within the three months stipulated in the contract and we need our money”
On why the money should be kept in a escrow account, the counsel held that when the first tranche was paid to the state, it refused to pay the plaintiff hence the money should remain there it is dissipated.
On jurisdiction, Emeka said the assignment given to the plaintiff is a contract that can only be performed in Abuja where DMO, Ministry of Finance and the money to be collected is from the Federal Government, all based in Abuja. “And all are within the jurisdiction of this honourable court. We only have to report back to Asaba State capital”, he said.
He said granting the application of the defendants without hearing the plaintiff’s motion of notice is like chasing away the plaintiff from the seat of justice.