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Female Billionaire Shagaya in legal battle with EFCC over frozen N1.9B

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday urged the Federal High Court in Lagos not to unfreeze a Unity Bank account with a balance of N1,902,673,399.93 belonging to a business woman, Hajiya Bola Shagaya.

The anti-graft agency claimed that the N1.9bn was the balance of a total of N3,305,150,000, which Shagaya received as “founder fees” on behalf of an organisation, “Women for Change” being spearheaded by a former First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan.

The EFCC claimed that the N3.3bn was realised through Shagaya’s “fraudulent activities in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation,” where she allegedly “influenced the fraudulent allocation of Dual Purpose Kerosene to Index Petrolube Africa Limited, with the aid of the former First Lady, Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan.”

According to the EFCC, the N3.3bn was paid by the Index Petrolube Africa Limited and its sister company, Autodex Nigeria Limited.

The two companies, it said, belong to one Honourable Ezeani ThankGod, adding that the reason for the N3.3bn payment was to “fraudulently facilitate Dual Purpose Kerosene to ThankGod’s company, Index Petrolube Africa Limited.”

The anti-graft agency claimed that out of the N3.3bn, Shagaya had “paid a cumulative sum of N1,212,000,000 to the former First Lady, Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan, through her ‘Women for Change Initiative’ account domiciled in Diamond Bank, to which the former First Lady is the sole signatory.”

It said after paying N1.2bn to Patience, Shagaya kept the balance of N1.9bn for herself by “warehousing” same in her personal bank account in Unity Bank.

The EFCC said it was on this basis that it secured an order of Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos on December 29, 2016 to freeze the account.

It, therefore, begged Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the same court not to unfreeze Shagaya’s account, so that Shagaya would not “use this honourable court as a shield against criminal investigations and prosecution.”

These were contained in a counter-affidavit filed by the EFCC in response to an originating summons filed by Shagaya, urging the court to give her access to her Unity Bank account, which had been frozen since December 29, 2016.

Shagaya, through her lawyer, Mr. Napoleon Emeaso-Nwachukwu, contended that she was not given a fair hearing before Justice Muslim Hassan made the freezing order.

She urged Justice Oguntoyinbo to set Justice Hassan’s order aside by declaring it unconstitutional, null and void “as same violates the applicant’s right to own movable property as guaranteed by Section 44(1)(k) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.”

In a 19-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Sulaiman Aliu, Shagaya expressed concern that the ex parte freezing order made by Justice Hassan appeared, otherwise, to be final as the judge “did not give any return date for further proceedings and did not avail the applicant, who was the respondent therein and owner of the attached properties, a hearing.”

She said there was no criminal charge against her before and after the freezing order was made to justify her being denied access to her account by the EFCC.

She added, “The order of this honourable court made on the 29th of December, 2016 by Honourable Justice M.S. Hassan deprived the applicant of her property without recourse to laid-down procedure and due process of law.

“The ex parte order made to last pending the determination of an investigation, which is devoid of a time certain and indefinite in nature, is oppressive and a violation of the applicant’s rights to fair hearing, presumption of innocence and right to her property.”

She said since “the unlawful freezing of the applicant’s account by the respondent, the applicant has not been able to transact with that account due to her inability to access same and this has caused her business losses and opportunities.”

She said it would be in the best interest of justice to grant her access to her account.

But the EFCC, in opposition, argued that Justice Oguntoyinbo lacked the power to sit as an appellate court over Justice Hassan’s decision, describing Shagaya’s originating summons as an abuse of court processes.

It accused Shagaya of filing the originating summons “so as to impede the proper dispensation of justice and thus avoiding criminal investigations and possible prosecution.”

After entertaining arguments from the EFCC’s lawyer, Idris Mohammed, and Shagaya’s lawyer, Emeaso-Nwachukwu, on Monday, Justice Oguntoyinbo adjourned till May 17, 2018 for judgment.