The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Friday, aborted bid by the Federal Government to seize funds in all accounts without the Bank Verification Number, BVN.
The court, in a judgment delivered by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, held that FG failed to fulfill certain conditions that would entitle it to secure final forfeiture order in respect of funds in such accounts.
Justice Dimgba held that FG failed to comply with section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud.
He maintained that for FG to succeed in obtaining final forfeiture order, it must be prove that funds in such accounts were abandoned or unclaimed, were products of unlawful activity, as well as an advert placed for anyone laying claim to such funds to come forward.
“Advertisement therefore is a necessary condition to be fulfilled”, the court held, adding that “relief sought by the plaintiff cannot be granted at this stage”.
Justice Dimgba noted that FG neither adduced any evidence to prove that funds in the accounts were proceeds of crime, nor indicated efforts it made to ensure that banks complied with interim orders of the court.
It will be recalled that the court had in an ex-parte order it made on October 17, 2017, directed the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and 19 commercial banks in the country to disclose all accounts in their custody without BVN and amounts in them.
The court further granted an interim order directing the banks to freeze funds in such accounts by stopping “all outward payments, operations or transactions”, pending the hearing of the substantive application that was filed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, seeking permanent forfeiture of funds in such accounts to FG.
It specifically granted “An interim order of forfeiture of the monies in the said accounts without BVN to the Claimants/Applicants being accounts with insufficient Know Your Customer guidelines contrary to Section 3 of the Money Laundering Act, 2011 and CBN guidelines, pending the determination of the originating motion on notice”.
The court ordered Chief Compliance Officers of all the banks to depose an affidavit disclosing details of all such accounts, their owners and their proceeds.
However, in another ruling on November 15, 2017, Justice Dimgba, varied the initial orders following an agreement FG reached with the 19 commercial banks.
The court directed banks to immediately unfreeze accounts that had since been linked to a BVN after the freezing order was made. The Judge noted that the way the relief was couched, the freezing order placed on such accounts woud have subsisted until the case was finally determined and not by the account owner undertaking the BVN registration.
Justice Dimgba said that aspect of his ruling had created “awkward and unfortunate results”