Appeal Court Dismisses EFCC’s Seizure of Professional Fees Ozekhome Received from Former Ekiti Governor

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Appeal Court Dismisses EFCC’s Seizure of Professional Fees Ozekhome Received from Former Ekiti Governor
Obiajulu Joel Nwolu

The Court of Appeal, Lagos Judicial Division, has voided the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s seizure of Mike Ezekhome’s professional fees obtained from the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose.

The anti-graft agency had frozen the money for 120 days through a temporary ex parte order, alleging that the N75 million paid to Ozekhome was a product of unlawful activity, SaharaReporters reports.

The EFCC adduced that money was paid to the counsel by the then incumbent Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, who was under the agency’s investigation.

In its ruling, the court held that: “a legal practitioner is entitled to his fees for professional services and such fees cannot be rightly labelled as proceeds of crime”.

It also held, “further, it is not a requirement of the law that a legal practitioner would go into inquiry before receiving his fees from his client, to find out the source of the fund from which he would be paid.”

The EFCC had earlier filed an appeal against the judgement of Justice Abdulazuz Anka of the Federal High Court, Lagos, delivered in 2017 and held in favour of the respondent.

Justice Anka had unfrozen Ozekhome’s blocked account in Guaranty Trust Bank and vacated the interim ex parte order he earlier placed on the funds of Mike Ozekhome’s Chambers, at the instance of the EFCC.

The Court of Appeal in dismissing the appeal brought by the EFCC (FRN), held that the EFCC had wrongfully obtained the ex parte order to freeze the account as the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to grant same and as the defendant could not have committed any infraction to warrant his account being blocked and frozen.

The court after hearing arguments from U. U. Buhari for the Appellant (FRN) and Ejieke Onuoha (for Ozekhome), held that there was uncontradicted evidence shown in invoices and receipts issued by Ozekhome to Fayose that the said sum represented part payment of his professional fees in the handling of various cases for Fayose across Nigeria.

In 2016, the EFCC had, through Justice I.B.M Idris, then of the Federal High Court, Lagos, frozen Governor Fayose’s accounts, accusing him of allegedly keeping proceed of unlawful activity.

Fayose immediately engaged Ozekhome’s legal services and he approached the Federal High Court, Ado-Ekiti, presided over by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, and challenged the ex parte freezing order granted by Justice Idris.

A judgement delivered by Justice Taiwo Taiwo had found that the freezing order had been improperly granted and without jurisdiction in the first place, and upon suppression of material facts.

Fayose after the judgement went to his bank and withdrew N5 million from his unfrozen account for himself, while transferring N75 million to Ozekhome, as part payment of his professional fees.

The EFCC, though appealed this judgement, still went ahead and froze Ozekhome’s account, contending that the N75 million paid to his chambers by Fayose as professional fees for legal services, was a proceed of unlawful activity.

Ozekhome filed a motion before the Federal High Court, Lagos, urging it to set aside its earlier order freezing his chambers’ account.

He alleged misrepresentation, non-disclosure, suppression of material facts and non-compliance with the rules of the lower court and Judicial authorities regulating the grant of ex parte applications by the Appellant.

Justice Anka after hearing arguments from Ozekhome and Rotimi Oyedepo for the EFCC vacated the ex parte order and unfroze his account with GTBank. It was this judgement that the EFCC appealed to the Court of Appeal.

This post was written by Obiajulu Joel Nwolu.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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