The Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday set aside its June 30, 2017, interim order of forfeiture of the sums of N500m and $500,000 allegedly looted from the Zamfara State’s share of the Paris Club refunds made by the Federal Government.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had alleged that the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, diverted the money from the state government’s account to two firms; First Generation Mortgage Bank Ltd and Gosh Projects Limited, from which the funds were allegedly recovered.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba on Friday dismissed EFCC’s application for an order of final forfeiture of the money to the Federal Government.
The judge ruled that it would be “an unjust, inequitable and irresponsible exercise” of his judicial powers under section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act to gloss over the claims and go ahead to make the final forfeiture order.
“I do not believe that this provision should be available where the absolute forfeiture of the funds or the funds itself are subject of a significant contest as it is in the circumstances of the present case,” the judge ruled.
He challenged the Federal Government and the EFCC that if they felt “strongly about the illicit origin of the funds” they should discharge the requisite burdens of proof, rather than resorting to the easy route of forfeiture afforded by the Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act.”
The court had in its order of June 30, directed the EFCC to advertise the notice of the court order in a newspaper inviting those interested in the funds to show cause why the funds should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
Following the publication, one Prince Godwin Udemaduka and Mountain Crest Investment Services Limited filed separate court processes laying competing claims to the ownership of the funds and urged the court not to make a final order of forfeiture of the funds.
Ruling on Friday, Justice Dimgba said with the exhibits attached to their motions, the claims of the two parties laying claim to the money were legitimate but could be contested.
“Accordingly, I hereby set aside the court order of June 30, 2017, granting interim forfeiture of the funds in the referenced accounts to the Federal Government,” he added.