Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, yesterday, granted the application filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), seeking to discontinue the matter involving the N20billion Kogi State salary bail-out loan.
The application, according to the commission’s counsel, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), is the sequel to the decision of the management of Sterling Bank Plc to return N19, 333,333,333.36 standing in the credit of the frozen account to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
On August 31, 2021, Justice Tijani Garba Ringim, a vacation judge, had ordered the freezing of the account following an ex-parte application filed by the EFCC.
The anti-graft agency, in a 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the ex-parte application, had stated that it received a credible and direct intelligence, which led to the tracing of the funds reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities in an account No. 0073572696 domiciled in Sterling Bank, Plc with the name Kogi State Salary Bailout Account.
Moving the application for the interim forfeiture of the funds on August 31, 2021, A. O. Mohammed, counsel to the EFCC, had urged the court to grant the order so as to prevent further dissipation of the funds in the account.
Mohammed had also told Justice Ringim that the N20 billion meant to augment the salary payment and running cost of the government was kept in an interest-yielding account with the bank.
According to him, “ Instead of using the money for the purpose, it was meant for, Sterling Bank Plc, acting on the instruction of the Kogi State government, transferred it from the loan account and placed it in a fixed deposit account.”
Mohammed further told the court that the bank had yet to present any credible evidence to show that the facility was well secured.
After listening to the applicant’s counsel, Justice Ringim had ordered the freezing of the account and also directed the publication of the order in a national newspaper by the EFCC.
At the last adjourned sitting, counsel to the Kogi State government, Sam Eguro (SAN), had told Justice Aneke, to whom the matter was re-assigned, that his client had filed processes against the interim order granted by Justice Ringim, and that the EFCC had equally filed reply to the same.
In his response, counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, had admitted being served with the processes, and added that he had filed his counter.
Consequently, Justice Aneke adjourned to yesterday for hearing of all applications.
At the resumed sitting yesterday, counsel to the EFCC, Pinheiro, told the court that the management of Sterling Bank Plc, where the account is domiciled had acknowledged its existence in its book, “but claimed the same was a mirror account.”
He further told the court that the management of the bank had clarified the questions leading to the commencement of the suit.
He further told the court that “The sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 is still standing in the credit of the account frozen pursuant to the order of this Honorable Court”. He added that the management of the bank, pursuant to a letter dated 15 September 2021, signed by its managing director, indicated an intention to return the N19,333,333,333.36 to the CBN.
In his response, counsel to the respondent, Eguro, acknowledged the notice of discontinuation.
In his ruling, Justice Aneke held that, “since this is what they are asking for, the application is therefore granted as plead.”