Justice Abdulazeez Anka of the Federal High Court, Lagos, has fixed February 23 to hear the application filed by Mike Ozekhome, SAN, asking the court to strike out its ruling directing the temporary forfeiture of N75 million belonging to the senior lawyer.
The order was given on February 7 after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had filed an application against Ozekhome alleging that the N75 million found in his Guaranty Trust Bank account was proceeds of crime.
The anti-corruption body claimed that the money was received from Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State whom Ozekhome was defending in an ongoing court case against the EFCC.
But in a counter affidavit, Ozekhome stated that the EFCC’s action was carried out in bad faith and did not comply with the statutory and judicial authorities in obtaining an interim order vide motion exparte.
In his counter-affidavit, Ozekhome is asking the court for an order discharging and/or vacating forthwith, the interim order made ex-parte,which ordered an interim order of forfeiture to freeze or attach the money for 120 days.
Aside unfreezing his accounts, Ozekhome also wants Justice Anka to issue“an order restraining the federal government and the EFCC, whether by themselves, their operatives, agents, servants, and/or privies howsoever,from dealing in anyway and manner as to the operation or the proprietary rights of the ownership of the account.”
Ozekhome claimed that the EFCC “suppressed material facts in obtaining the order, therefore, the action is unconstitutional as same offends sections 36, 37 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution as there was no legal justification for EFCC’s action.”
He also argued that “the Applicant’s family, staff, dependants, associates, business and livelihood will greatly suffer, and are already suffering and will continue to suffer irreparable damage if this application is not granted, and the blockade or freezing of the account lifted immediately.”
The senior lawyer explained that the N75 million was part-payment of legal fees from Governor Fayose.
“Fayose, had himself withdrawn the sum of N5,000,000.00 in cash before transferring the sum of N75,000,000.00 to the account of Mike Ozekhome’s Chambers,” he said.
Ozekhome also filed an affidavit of urgency deposed to by a lawyer in his chambers, Chimaobi Onuigbo, praying that the case be heard urgently as the freeze order placed was affecting the day to day running of the law firm.
“The motion on notice seeking to discharge and/or vacate the said interim order of this honourable court on 7th February, 2017, requires urgent hearing and determination, as the continued freezing of Mike Ozekhome’s Chambers’ account renders the chambers impecunious and unable to carry out the day to day activities of the firm,” Onuigbo stated.
He added that the order had also caused the chambers “untold embarrassment, public odium, obloquy and mental agony as the respondent gave very wide publicity to the said freezing or attachment in print,electronic and social media, thus giving the wrong impression that he has committed a criminal offence against the laws of the land.”
The deponent said that Ozekhome’s firm has handled and is still handling several matters for Governor Fayose, adding that the chambers issued a receipt, acknowledging the part payment “for all the cases the Chambers is handling for Governor Fayose”.
Onuigbo noted that it was standard practice that the chambers was entitled to its professional fees and that there was no court order declaring that the money in Governor Fayose’s account, from which the N75 million was transferred to the chambers, contained proceeds of crime.
“He (EFCC lawyer, Oyedepo) knows as a fact that as lawyers, Mike Ozekhome’s Chambers is entitled to its professional fees,” the affidavit read.
“He knows as a fact that at the time of payment of the said professional fees, there was no court order declaring the money in Mr. Ayodele Fayose’s account to be suspected proceeds of fraud, or money laundering.
“There was no encumbrance howsoever, the account having been defrozen and made operational,” the lawyer said.
Ozekhome maintained that the application by the EFCC was brought “because of his strong and uncompromising stance against some of the obnoxious anti-masses policies of the present administration and the judicial victories he has so far secured against the EFCC in different courts in Nigeria.”