Court Says EFCC Law On Lodgements Does Not Apply To Lawyers’ Fee

Mike Ozekhome, SAN
Mike Ozekhome, SAN

Justice Abdulaziz Anka of the federal high court Lagos has lifted the freeze order placed on the account of senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, and ruled that the money laundering Act dealing with disclosure of lodgements of N10 million and above does not apply to a private legal practitioner such as Ozekhome, especially where the N75 million was paid from a court-ordered defrozen account. .

The court had in February ordered that the account be temporarily forfeited to the government following an application filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in which it argued that that the N75 million contained in the said account was proceed of crime.

But Ozekhome challenged the court ruling, explaining that the money was part of professional fees paid to him by his client, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State.

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The senior lawyer pointed out that a federal high court in Ekiti State had lifted a similar temporary forfeiture order on the bank account of the Governor from which the N75 million was transferred to him.

Delivering his judgment on Monday, justice Anka said that he found it “doubtful if the objection of the EFCC can be lawfully sustained.”

He said: “I do not understand or comprehend why the applicant/respondent’s counsel, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, would still argue and stand his ground that the same account has not be unfrozen by the federal high court sitting in Ekiti state.

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“In both the order and the depositions, the account numbered 1000312625, was evidently and manifestly unfrozen, such an argument, therefore, by Mr Oyedepo Esq cannot hold water.

“From the circumstances and facts as outlined above, my decision is based on the following considerations: considering the fact that the source of the fund of the respondent/applicant is derivable from an unencumbered account; considering also the fact that such account has also been unfrozen via the order of the federal high court sitting in Ado-Ekiti; considering also that the amount has been dissipated.

“Put into consideration also was the fact that the funds are monies paid for the services rendered by the respondent/applicant in prosecuting various actions before various courts. I find it very doubtful if the objection of the EFCC can be lawfully sustained.”

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Justice Anka also criticized the EFCC counsel for speaking from the both sides of his mouth when on the one hand he described the Money in Ozekhome’s account as proceeds of crime, and on the other hand he agreed that Ozekhome had actually worked for the fees and was thus entitled to it.

The judge also held that Ozekhome’s actions by filing an application to set aside the forfeiture order on his accounts cannot in anyway amount to attempting to shield himself from investigation.