Justice Ibrahim Buba of a Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered the forfeiture of multi-billion naira properties belonging to a former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo.
The judge made this order following Tompolo’s refusal to appear in court over a 40-count charge of money laundering and stealing of about N34 billion belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The charges were brought against him and nine others by the Economic and Finanacial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Properties to be forfeited include: a River Crew Change Boat named MUHA – 15; the property known as “Tompolo Dockyard” by the end of Enerhen Road, Effurun, Warri and the property known as “Tompolo Yard”, at the end of Chevron Clinic Road, next to Next Oil, Edjeba, Warri.
Others are: A Diving School at Kurutie, Escravos River; the property known as “Tompolo House” at Oporaza Town, opposite the Palace and any other property discovered by the EFCC, moveable and immoveable, belonging to Tompolo.
Justice Buba had on January 14 issued a bench warrant against the Delta State native and ordered his arrest for failing to honour a court summons dated January 12 in respect of the alleged N34bn fraud.
The nine charged alongside Tompolo are: Patrick Akpobolokemi, Global West Vessel, Odimiri Electrical Ltd, Kime Engozu, Boloboere Ltd, Rex Elem, Destre Ltd, Gregory Mbonu and Captain Warrendi Enisuoh.
The suspects allegedly diverted N34 billion which accrued from the public-private partnership agreement between NIMASA and Global West Vessel Specialist Limited for personal use.
At the resumed hearing of the matter Friday, counsel to EFCC, Festus Keyamo told the court that the warrant of arrest issued by the court has not been excuted despite the “best efforts” of all the security agencies in the country.
He stated that all the nation’s security agencies were involved in the search of Tompolo but his whereabouts are not known yet.
Consequently, he sought the leave of court to amend the charge by removing the name of Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo from the charge, so that the trial of other accused persons could commence.
Keyamo also drew the attention of the court to a Motion Exparte dated February 18, 2016 praying the court for an order authorising EFCC to seize properties belonging to the former militant leader.
But, virtually all the defence counsels opposed the motion exparte on the grounds that they were not served with copies of the motion.
Dr. Joseph Nwobike SAN (counsel to the 2nd defendant), Mr. Wale Akoni SAN (counsel to 7th and 8th defendants) along with other defence lawyers argued that it is necessary for them to have copies of the motion exparte in the interest of justice and fairness.
However, Justice Buba ruled that a motion exparte needs not to be served on parties, adding that the motion is specifically directed to the first accused (Tompolo) who was neither in court nor represented by a lawyer.
Moving the motion brought pursuant to Sections 80 and 81 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, Keyamo prayed the court to order the forfeiture of properties belonging to Tompolo pending the time he would appear in court.
He stated that after three months, the court can order the properties to be auctioned if he (Tompolo) did not make himself available in court.
In his ruling, Justice Buba held that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 empowers the court to seize properties of an accused who refused to face trial.
The court recalled that even though Tompolo refused to appear in court he briefed his lawyers and through them sought to vacate the order of his arrest.
Consequently, he ordered forfeiture of properties belonging to Tompolo pending the time he chooses to appear in court.
The following assets belonging to Tompolo were attached and will be forfeited; Property at No. 1 Chief Agbamu Close DDPA Extension Warri (Effurun), Delta State, among others.
Justice Buba however refused to attach all the limited liability companies listed by the EFCC until their proof of ownership is revealed to the court.
The limited liability companies include; Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, Odimiri Electrical Limited and Kime Engozu, Boloboere Property and Estate Limited, Rex Elem, Destre Consult Limited, Gregory Mbonu and Captain Warredi Enisuoh respectively.
EFCC had in an affidavit in support of the motion exparte deposed to by one Adah John Adah, a litigation officer in the law firm of Festus Keyamo, stated that Tompolo was invited by the EFCC on several occasions to come and answer to the allegations of fraudulent activities levelled against him which was uncovered during investigation.
The commission stated that Tompolo was charged before the court to answer to charges levelled against him but he persistently refused and failed to honour the several invitations extended to him.
He added that the court had on January 12, 2016 issued a warrant of arrest against Tompolo, who absconded and concealed himself from all security forces in the country to frustrate the execution of the warrant of arrest.
The deponent added that rather than present himself to the court, Tompolo engaged the services of Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, who filed a motion dated January 27, 2016 to set aside the warrant of arrest.
He added that the said motion was dismissed by the court on February 8, 2016.
He stated that since the order for the arrest was issued against Tompolo, the combined team of the Nigerian police and the military have been combing the creeks and the entire nation for his arrest, but he continued to abscond and conceal himself.
He stated that EFCC operatives have carried out investigations and received intelligence report to the effect that the stated properties belong to Tompolo.
The matter has been adjourned till March 22 for hearing.