The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been called upon to seek the forfeiture of the sum of $175,750,000 allegedly found in an account linked to former first lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan.
Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), including the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay, Chief Ladi Williams and Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem, are among those calling for this move by the EFCC
They all advised the commission to trace the movement of the money after it was initially traced to an account said to belong to a company belonging to the former first lady.
The deposits were said to have been found in the account of Pluto Property and Investment Limited (PPIL), one of the firms allegedly linked to the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife.
PPIL was one of the four companies convicted by Justice Babs Kuewumi of the Federal High Court, Abujà on November 2 for laundering the sum of $15.5 million, which the former First Lady insists belongs to her.
Others are Seagate Property Development & Investment Company Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Avalon Global Property Development Company Limited.
Prof Sagay told one of our correspondents yesterday that Mrs Jonathan risked losing the $175m allegedly found in the account of a company linked to her except she was able belongs to her.
He said should the former first lady fail to justify how she acquired the money, it would be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Sagay said the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is empowered to seize any funds suspected to be proceeds of crime.
Sagay said: “It is a straighforward matter. If you found a sum of money like that and somebody claims it but cannot establish how he or she acquired it, even under some of the sections under the ICPC law, the person will forfeit it to the state.
“That has to be applied.
“If she was not able to explain how she was able to earn that money, how she earned it, then she will lose it,” Sagay said.
Chief Williams said the former First Lady owes Nigerians an explanation on how she came about the said money.
Speaking in a telephone interview, Williams said: “The EFCC has to invite her for interrogation. She needs to explain the source of the money and must give satisfactory evidence.
“She must be able to tell us if the money was realised through some services she rendered. And if she claims this, she must be able to provide the audited account.
“If the money was got through some business transactions, she should also be able to explain.
“As a first Lady and former Permanent Secretary in Bayelsa State, she owes the nation an explanation.
On his part, Chief Adetola-Kazeem wondered how the sum of $175 million could have vanished without a trace, urging the EFCC to question the relevant bank’s staff.
He said: “If the money was indeed in the account, there’s no way it could have vanished without a trace. The bank should be able to explain how it was moved.
“It was in an account with the bank. The bank must know how it was moved, who moved it and to whom or where it was moved.
“They can always trace that. When the relevant bank staff are questioned, they should be able to disclose how and to where the money was moved.
“It’s simply a question of tracing.”
The Executive Secretary, Socio Economic and Accountability Project (SERAP), Adetokunbo Mumuni, however, advised the commission to seek an interim court order for the forfeiture of the money.
He said: “If Mrs. Patience Jonathan is contesting ownership of the money, what the EFCC should do is to seek an interim court order of forfeiture pending when the case would end.”
Mumuni expressed doubts on whether the former first lady can rationalise and explain away how she came about such a heavy amount of money when she was not an international businesswoman.
He said the money should not be released to the former first lady.
The SERAP scribe said there are provisions in the EFCC Act laying down the process the commission would have to follow to obtain the forfeiture order.
He said there was need for her to justify the source of the money, failing which she should be made to forfeit it to the federal government.