The Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday rejected the Federal Government’s request for an order of final forfeiture of all the funds contained in all accounts without Bank Verification Numbers in the country’s 19 commercial banks.
Rather, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba affirmed his ruling of October 17, 2017, which was modified on November 15, 2017, directing the 19 commercial banks in the country to freeze all accounts without the BVN and advertise the details of the accounts, including the amounts in them in a widely read newspaper.
Justice Dimgba had on November 15, 2017 modified the October 17, 2017 order by directing banks to unfreeze the frozen accounts whenever the owners came forward for the BVN registration.
Dismissing the Federal Government’s motion requesting the final forfeiture of the proceeds of the accounts, Justice Dimgba ruled in his judgment that necessary steps had yet to be taken to warrant a final forfeiture of the targeted funds.
The judge ruled that the Federal Government had failed to prove that the funds in them were either abandoned or proceeds of crime, as it claimed, since there was no newspaper advertisement of the affected accounts to enable the owners of the accounts or those who had interests in them to claim them.
“The onus of proof that the funds were unclaimed or are proceeds of crime lies on the applicants,” the judge said.
The motion, jointly filed on behalf of the Federal Government and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), through their lawyer, Mr. Ade Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), was anchored on the alleged refusal of the 19 banks to comply with the court’s earlier order directing them to advertise the affected bank accounts.
The government argued that the failure of the banks to carry out the court’s order implied that the funds in the accounts without the BVN were either abandoned or proceeds of crime and should therefore be forfeited to it.
But the banks had, through their lawyer, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), opposed the Federal Government’s suit on, among other grounds, that the penalty for non-compliance with the Central Bank of Nigeria’s regulation on the BVN was that there would be no outward payment on the accounts and not that the funds in the accounts would be forfeited to the Federal Government as being requested by the plaintiffs.
Ruling on Friday, Justice Dimgba held that by virtue of section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act under which the Federal Government had brought its application for final forfeiture, advertisement of the details of the targeted accounts in a newspaper to enable those who owned them or had interest in them to come forward to claim them, was a requirement that must be met before an order of final forfeiture could be made.
He said the AGF neither showed that he had filed contempt proceedings against the managing directors for failing to obey the court’s order nor brought to court any letter demanding compliance with the court order.