The Nigerian government and former Commander, Presidential Air Fleet (PAF), Air Vice Marshal AVM Uko Ebong rtd, on Monday resumed fierce legal battle on the ownership of N510 million cash traced to the bank account of a private company in Abuja.
The money, found in an account with Sterling Bank, is being claimed and counter claimed by the Federal Government and the retired Air Vice Marshall in a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Nigeria, through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is laying claim to the money on the allegations that it is a proceed of fraud while Ebong is counter claiming its ownership on the ground that it is a legitimate money paid his family company for a contract executed for the Federal Government.
EFCC told the court that the N510 million formed part of the N731 million fraudulently paid to Ebong by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) without any contractual agreement through a company, Magnificent 5 Ventures Limited, linked to him.
The bone of contention by the Nigerian government in the suit, was that it never awarded any contract to the company claimed by Ebomg and demanded for the contract award agreements from the Air Chief.
Lawyer to the Federal Government, Mr Ekele Iheanacho, applied to Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja to order the final forfeiture of the huge sum to his client.
He claimed that his client had in May last year secured a temporary forfeiture order issued by Justice John Tsoho of the same court before the retired Air Vice Marshall came up to counter claim ownership of the money.
The EFCC had, in an affidavit to back ownership motion, claimed that Ebong, while being a public officer, managed and used private companies to carry out financial transactions while concealing his identity.
The said companies include Magnificent 5 Ventures Limited, Tripple Kay Company Nigeria Limited and Elionenai International College Limited.
“Magnificent 5 Ventures is a company registered with the CAC. Though directors of the company on paper are Mrs. Ebong Mercy Uko (the wife of AVM Ebong) and Ekpo Ubong Asuquo (AVM’s brother-in-law), AVM Ebong controlled the financial dealings of the company.
“Without any contractual agreement, a total sum of N731, 000, 000.00 was paid to Magnificent 5 Ventures Limited between May 2014 and October 2014 by the ONSA under the guise of payment for renovation of PAF barracks and PAF staff quarters.
“There is no proof of any work carried out by Magnificent 5 Ventures Limited upon which the payments were made to it.
“The payments were made into the Sterling Bank Plc Account No. 0026142493 operated by Magnificent 5 Ventures Limited. Mrs. Ebong and her brother, Asuquo, are also the signatories to the said bank account of Magnificent 5 Ventures Likited,” EFCC added.
However in his defense, the retired Air Vice Marshall admitted that his family company actually received the money as payment for rehabilitation of Presidential Air Fleet, Barracks and construction of a sporting complex.
Ebong claimed to be Commander of the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) at the time the Office of the National Security Adviser NSA awarded the controversial contract.
He admitted that the contract was awarded without agreement paper, procurement analysis, certificate of completion, request for payment and issuance of invoice because it was against security tradition and procedure at the Presidential Air Fleet office for security reasons.
Justice Mohammed, in a ruling, noted that both parties have admitted some facts but have dispute only in the alleged tradition of award of contracts without documentations by the Presidential Air Fleet office.
The judge held that since the Air Vice Marshall made the claim, the onus is on him to establish the fact before the court with oral evidence for his claim to the money to be successful.
Justice Mohammed subsequently fixed November 17 to take oral evidence from the Air Vice Marshall in the matter before deciding on the authentic owner of the money.