By The Punch
The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on Wednesday asked Stanbic IBTC Bank and Zenith Bank to unfreeze two accounts linked to the wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience.
Members of the panel took turns to condemn the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for the continued freezing of the accounts by the banks when there was a court order vacating the freezing order.
The lawmakers specifically faulted the EFCC for notifying banks on court judgments freezing accounts domiciled in the financial institutions but allegedly refusing to write the banks when the freezing order had been vacated, but later served them with notice of appeal.
The committee is made up of members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
Patience had petitioned the Senate through her lawyer, Mr. Charles Ogboli (SAN), protesting against the freezing of her accounts in seven banks without court orders.
Several members of the committee queried the powers of the EFCC to serve court orders on banks, when the anti-graft agency was not part of the judiciary.
According to them, the banks were “afraid” of the EFCC, which was the reason why they kept flagging the accounts based on letters from the commission.
“The EFCC cannot take someone to court, and then be the one to serve the bank. The EFCC is not the judiciary, the judiciary is separate. That is why there are people engaged as court bailiffs,” a member of the panel, Senator Obinna Ogba, said.
He added, “Mr. Chairman, I think you need to give a definite instruction for them to open that account now because this bank has no business freezing that account.”
Ogba also accused the banks of taking advantage of such orders to trade with customers’ frozen funds.
Also criticising the banks, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, said, “Why you responded to that instruction (to freeze the accounts) was because there was a court order. And now you have an evidence to show that the order has been vacated. Then, somebody (EFCC) is now writing you a letter (notice of appeal). On what basis are you basing your actions?”
The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Sam Anyanwu, also faulted the process, saying, “The court bailiff should be the one to serve the court order and the bank should sign for it. It looks as if they (banks) are taking the advantage. The money is available to you (banks) and you are trading with it.”
Anyanwu specifically faulted the decision by Stanbic IBTC Bank to freeze an account linked to Finchley Top Homes Limited, one of the firms affected by the court order, while the account itself was not listed among those to be frozen.
According to officials of the bank who appeared before the panel, the account, which belonged to AM-PM Global Network Limited, has one Ada Amah as the same signatory to the Finley Top Homes’ account.
Officials of the bank stated that though the two accounts had been linked, the second account was only frozen because it had not fully complied with the “Know Your Customer” requirements of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and not by any court order obtained by the EFCC.
In his ruling, Anyanwu said, “We will like to have the statement of the accounts and the mandate cards of the accounts. Then, of course, you said there was a KYC issue on it; the committee will decide on what to do about that.
“If you can implement the EFCC directive, I think you should implement the directive of the Senate. The EFCC is coming on their own but this one (second account) has no impediments; it must be opened. That account must be opened because there is no encumbrance. There is no court order on it.”
The Executive Director of Corporate Banking and Acting Managing Director, Ecobank, Mr. Akin Dada, also said the personal account of Mrs. Jonathan was not frozen by the bank and was operated just last week.
He however noted that a court order was served on the bank by the EFCC to freeze two accounts belonging to Ariwabai Aruera Reach Out Foundation, which has the former First Lady as one of its trustees:, and another belonging to Finley Top Homes.
Dada however pointed out that the bank was not aware of any court order vacating the initial order to freeze the account.