BY EMEKA EJERE
The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos on Friday upheld the final forfeiture order on the $40 million worth of jewellery seized from the premises of the former Minister for Petroleum, Diezani Allison-Madueke.
Justice Festus Obande, who read the judgment, dismissed the move by the former minister to challenge the forfeiture order, heling that there was no substance in Alison-Madueke’s bid to overturn the lower court’s order.
Barring any appeal by the former minister to the Supreme Court, the court held that the jewelleries are to be forfeited to the Federal Government.
In July 2019 the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had secured an order from Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court to temporarily forfeit the expensive items to the Federal Government.
According to the schedule attached to the forfeiture application, the jewellery, categorised into 33 sets, includes “419 expensive bangles; 315 expensive rings; 304 expensive earrings; 267 expensive necklaces; 189 expensive wristwatches; 174 expensive necklaces and earrings; 78 expensive bracelets; 77 expensive brooches; and 74 expensive pendants.”
In his application for the final forfeiture order, EFCC counsel Mr Rotimi Oyedepo had told the judge that the items were reasonably suspected to have been acquired with the proceeds of unlawful activities of the former minister.
An investigator with the Commission, Rufai Zaki, in an affidavit before the court insisted that the jewelleries were beyond the former minister’s “known and provable lawful income.”
The investigator further said that findings by the EFCC showed that she started acquiring them in 2012, two years after she was appointed Minister.
The investigator also said that the EFCC was in possession of the details of the bank account through which Mrs Alison-Madueke received her salary as a minister.
“The respondent did not utilise her salary or any part of her legitimate income to acquire the assets sought to be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria,” Zaki said.
He said a “damning intelligence report” received by the Commission led to the search of former minister’s house at No. 10 Fredrick Chiluba Close, Asokoro, Abuja.
The former Minister on her part had challenged the seizure of the jewelleries from her premises by the EFCC.
An affidavit filed on her behalf by her counsel, Prof Awa Kalu (SAN), Diezani, who is currently in the United Kingdom, alleged that the EFCC violated her fundamental “right to own property and to appropriate them at her discretion,” under sections 43 and 44 of the constitution.
She also accused the anti-graft agency of entering her apartment illegally and taking the items without any court order.