by Ihuoma Chiedozie, Abuja
There were indications on Tuesday that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission will go to court to challenge moves to claim for Delta State, the controversial $15m cash said to have been received from an undisclosed agent of a former governor of the state, Chief James Ibori, in 2007.
EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, informed our correspondent that the anti-graft agency would contest the moves to have the $15m returned to the state.
The sum, which Ibori allegedly offered the EFCC as bribe to compromise its investigations by the anti-graft agency, has been kept in the strong room of the Central Bank of Nigeria as an unclaimed property since August 2007.
Following an exparte motion by the EFCC, an Abuja Federal High Court on July 25, 2012, granted an interim order forfeiting the $15m to the Federal Government.
The court, presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, ordered that if nobody steps forward to claim the money within 14 days, it would be finally forfeited to the Federal Government when the motion on notice for final forfeiture comes up for hearing on September 17, 2007.
Since the court granted the interim order, some stakeholders in Delta State had been arguing that the money should be handed over to the state, which Ibori governed between 1999 and 2007.
Some stakeholders in Delta State, including a former Minister of Information and Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, called for the return of the money to the state.
A lawyer, Mr. Timipa Okponipere, on July 27, filed a suit before an Abuja Federal High Court, challenging the interim order that forfeited the amount to the Federal Government.
The suit is perceived to be moves by Delta State to claim the money.
The lawyer told the court that he filed the application “for and on behalf of the Government and people of Delta State.”
He asked the court not to give the money to the Federal Government, maintaining that as at April 25, 2007 when Ibori allegedly offered the bribe of $15m bribe to the EFCC, he was still the governor of Delta State, with all rights and privileges attached to the office.
He asked the court to declare that the $15m is property belonging to Government of Delta State and its people.
Okponipere further asked the court to hold that any application or order granting the money to any other entity other than the Government and people of Delta State was illegal and of no effect.
The lawyer asked the court to order the Attorney General of the Federation, the EFCC and the CBN to return the money to the Government and people of Delta State.
However, EFCC counsel, Jacobs, told our correspondent that the anti-graft agency will challenge the moves to claim the money in court, once it is served with notices of a suit to claim the said amount.
Our correspondent asked for an update on the fate of the controversial $15m bribe money, following the termination of the two-week window during which the Abuja FHC ordered that any interested person should step forward to claim the money, and show cause why the final order of forfeiture should not be made in favour of the Federal Government.
Speaking to our correspondent on the telephone, Jacobs said, “I read in the papers that somebody made a claim, but we have not been served.
“If we are served we will contest it in court.”
The EFCC counsel added that in the event the commission was not served, it would still go to court to move the motion for the final forfeiture of the $15m to the Federal Government.
Okponipere urged the court to declare that the $15m became property of the Government and people of Delta State when Ibori was convicted and sentenced to prison in the United Kingdom, and that his (Ibori’s) conviction quashed all previous denials he made to any court, and the EFCC, regarding the question of whether or not he was the actual giver of the alleged bribe money.
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