The Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday refused to restrain the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from investigating an alleged suspicious payment to an oil firm, Zone 4 Energy Ltd.
The company’s lawyer, Mr Lanre Ogunlesi (SAN) had urged Justice Abdulazeez Anka to stop the agency from inviting the company’s directors.
Ogunlesi is representing Zone 4 Energy in a multi-billion naira debt recovery suit brought against it by First Bank Plc.
The applicants are First Bank, First Trustees Limited and a lawyer, Emmanuel Oyebanji, who was appointed by the bank as receiver of Zone 4 Energy’s assets.
The defendants are Zone 4 Energy Ltd, Zone 4 Energy FZE and Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority.
First Bank claimed that Zone 4 Energy owed it about N10.5 billion.
It appointed Oyebanji as a receiver for the company’s assets, including petroleum products stored in a tank farm.
Ogunlesi prayed the court to partially discharge the order restraining Zone 4 Energy’s assets on the basis that the petroleum products belonged to a third party.
“The petroleum products don’t form part of the charged assets,” he said, arguing that the restraining order made by Justice Saliu Saidu of the same court was only in respect of the tank farm and not the products.
Oyebanji opposed the application, saying: “We’re entitled to both the tank and the petroleum products.”
After the arguments, Ogunlesi informed the judge that Oyebanji allegedly wrote a petition to EFCC on an alleged N5 billion payment to Zone 4 Energy.
The payment was said to have been authorised by former Minister of Petroleum Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, and was paid into Zone 4 Enegy’s account.
Ogunlesi said the applicants were trying to undermine the court’s jurisdiction on the debt suit by using “exra-judicial means” against his clients.
The SAN said: “The petition is dated August 10. My clients have not gone there (to EFCC), but their customers have been there.
“There’s a letter from EFCC that they should come tomorrow (today). There’s a likelihood, my lord, that once they get there they’ll be detained.
“I will not cry wolf where there’s no wolf. They showed them the petition and I said, ‘why should my learned friend do this? You’re in court with me. Leave these things to the court.
“‘Why would you again write to EFCC to say ‘yes, in respect of three matters in which we have submitted to the jurisdiction of the court, you now want to armtwist my client’.
“I seek your lordship’s indulgence for a preservative order. It matters to me. When next we return to the court, your lordship may not see my client here. That’s the long and short of what I’m saying.”
Zone 4 Energy was represented in court by its Executive Director Mr Ola Olaniran.
But Oyebanji denied authoring the petition, saying: “This is most unfortunate. It is most unbelievable for a learned SAN to say that I wrote a petition last Monday. When the petition is brought to court, the learned Senior Advocate, from the Inner Bar, will apologise to me.”
Oyebanji claimed he was not engaged by First Bank to handle the case for which EFCC was petitioned.
“I told the learned Senior Advocate that this is the matter in respect of which I am briefed, being appointed as receiver. I don’t have any other information in respect of the other matter.
“But that there is a matter involving Diezani Alison-Madueke for which some staff of First Bank, including its former group managing director, were being investigated.
“I told him that several people were being invited, and that this (Zone 4 Energy’s) account also is not unconnected with that case.
“He said his client has been invited and that he has said their mind. That was all. Let him produce the petition,” Oyebanji said.
Refusing to restrain EFCC, Justice Anka said although he had not seen the petition, he would not stop the commission from doing its work.
He said: “This issue now is, he who asserts must prove. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence of the petition he (Oyebanji) has written.
“Even if he has written it, both civil and criminal cases can go on together by law. The civil action will continue, the criminal action will continue.
“Investigation cannot be stopped. Whether they called your client, whether they’re detaining them or whatever, I can’t stop EFCC from doing its job.
“As you said, it’s related to another matter in which the accounts are involved. I can’t stop any criminal investigation. I can’t give any order stopping an investigating authority.”
Ogunlesi said he has a pending application in which Zone 4 Energy is praying the court to discharge and strike out First Bank’s debt recovery suit.
Justice Anka adjourned till August 24 for ruling and hearing.
Source : The Nation