Alex Enumah in Abuja
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Bwari thursday set aside the declaration of businessman and Chief Executive Officer of Aiteo Group, Mr. Benedict Peters, as a wanted person.
The Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) had in March last year declared Peters wanted in connection with a case of criminal conspiracy, diversion of funds and money laundering.
But in a ruling thursday on a fundamental rights suit filed by Peters, the trial Judge, Justice Oathman Musa, held that the action of the anti-graft agency infringed on the fundamental rights of the applicant.
Justice Musa, in his ruling, noted that while the EFCC is statutorily empowered to investigate, arrest and prosecute any person in relation to its mandate, it must do so within the ambit of the law.
The judge held that though the commission has the powers to declare any person wanted, it must first seek the approval of the court before doing so.
“The act of declaring the applicant as a wanted person without the leave of the court is unconstitutional and infringes on the personal rights of the applicant, and it is hereby set aside,” he ruled.
On the claims by the first respondent that it obtained a warrant from a Lagos Magistrate’s Court before declaring the applicant wanted, the court said it could not find anywhere in the document where the Magistrate’s Court authorised the respondent to declare the applicant wanted.
The judge noted that the discrepancy between the date the warrant was signed by the court and when it was received by the first respondent makes it difficult for the court to rely on the warrant.
Whereas, the EFCC had signed August 4 as the date it obtained the warrant, the document itself showed the warrant was issued on August 5.
The EFCC had on August 15, 2016, declared the applicant wanted owing to his failure to appear before the commission and explain his role in the alleged $115 million (N23billion) bribe given to officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, in the buildup to the 2015 election.
The declaration containing the applicant’s photograph was made on the EFCC’s official website and also published in the Punch Newspaper and Sahara Reporters, an online publication.
Miffed by the action of the anti-graft agency, Peters had in a suit marked FHC/HC/CV/23/2017 and filed by his counsel, Mike Ozekhome, urged the court to set aside the declaration by the EFCC.
His grouse was that the commission did not follow due process before declaring him wanted.
Sued along the commission was the Attorney General of the Federation as second respondent.
Earlier, the judge dismissed a preliminary objection raised by the AGF challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit.
The court held that in as much as the matter borders around the fundamental rights of an individual, both the federal and state high courts have jurisdiction to hear the matter.