Calls have gone to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to seek the forfeiture of the sum of $175,750,000 allegedly found in an account linked to former first lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan.
Adding their voices to the call in different interviews yesterday were 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, among other respondents.
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.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, however, disagreed with the view that the former first lady should forfeit the said sum.
He said it behooves the state to prove every allegation against any citizen beyond reasonable doubt.
Ozekhome said: “Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, which they have not yet succeeded in abolishing in spite of their grandstanding, presumes the innocence of a person accused of any criminal offence.
“It is the state or the accuser that should prove a crime beyond reasonable doubt. That is the Anglo-Saxon system of criminal justice which is accusatorial, unlike the French model which is inquisitorial, by which the guilt of an accused person is presumed.
“The suggestion that Mrs Jonathan will forfeit the money if she cannot prove its source is antithetical to democratic norms.
“It is bizarre, and it is illegal to tell a suspect to prove her innocence rather than the state proving that she stole the money.
“That will be turning our criminal justice system upside down. It can never and will never happen in this country, in spite of their wishes.”
IYC, kinsmen defend ex-First Lady
Ijaw youths under the aegis of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide and kinsmen of former President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, rose in defence of allegations of corruption levelled against former First Lady, Patience Jonathan.
The President of IYC, Mr. Udengs Eradiri, said it would be an aberration to ask Mrs. Jonathan to forfeit the money she earned legitimately by virtue of her position.
Eradiri insisted that the bulk of the money under investigation was given to the ex-first lady as a gift by her well-wishers and friends of her family.
He explained that Patience attracted monetary gifts from people, especially at the time she was sick and almost died.
“We knew when she was seriously sick and she went abroad for treatment.
“People were moved, especially those who loathed the idea of the country losing another First Lady.
“They sympathised with her and donated money to enable her seek the best medical treatment.
“So, it was her goodwill that attracted such money to her. That was when the bulk of the money was given to her as a gift,” he said.
Eradiri further bemoaned attacks on the former first family saying among all the former presidents that ruled the country, only the one that came from the Niger Delta region was subjected to constant harassment.
Eradiri said: “This country has produced many presidents but the only one from the Niger Delta is constantly harassed by the machineries of state, especially the EFCC.
“We want to call on the President to please respect former President Jonathan, at least for the fact that he brought peace to this country, handed over peacefully to him.
“He didn’t go to court. He allowed him to run this country. President Buhari should please focus on leadership and stop vilifying the first family.
“Patience Jonathan is not the first First Lady in this country. A wife to former deputy governor, governor, Vice-President and President, are you expecting her to be a poor woman?
“There are other First Ladies in this country.
“In recent time, a former First Lady was awarded a university license. So, we are using this medium to send a message: leave our first family alone.
“Some people are not happy about Jonathan’s rising profile and they want to destroy it.”
Also the Ogbia clan leader of IYC, Osanya B. Osanya, said the entire Ogbia youths condemned the probe of Jonathan and his immediate family.
“We call on the EFCC and the present administration to tread with caution because the Niger Delta people are losing their patience on this hunting of our leaders.
“We call for equal rights and equity”, he said.
The umbrella body of Jonathan’s kinsmen under the auspices of Ogbia Brotherhood warned the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC) against further victimization of Jonathan’s family.
The President of Ogbia Brotherhood, Chief Benson Agadaga, asked the EFCC to leave Jonathan’s family alone, saying the former President and his wife deserved rest.
Agadaga said: “The former first family had been in public service as deputy governor, governor, vice-president and president for a long time. They have served the country for so long. They need rest and time for their children and family matters.