The Federal High Court in Lagos has adjourned until September 27 for judgment in a suit by Aiteo Energy Resources Ltd against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The oil and gas firm sued EFCC, one of its investors, Iliyasu Kwabi and the Attorney-General of the Federation for N10 billion.
The applicants are Aiteo’s Executive Director, Tunde Akinpelu, Managing Director Ewariezi Useh and in-house counsel Oladele Awonuga.
Through their lawyers Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), the applicants prayed the court to hold that EFCC operatives’ invasion of their business premises and their alleged arrest and torture violated their rights to personal liberty and human dignity.
They claimed that EFCC officials allegedly subjected them to inhuman treatment for over five hours on June 1, 2016 at their 5/7 Dockyard Road, Apapa, Lagos office.
The applicants said it was in a bid to arrest Aiteo’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mr. Benedict Peters “over an issue he was not privy to”.
They prayed Justice Oluremi Oguntoyibo to declare the alleged invasion as unlawful, and to hold that their intimidation and harassment by EFCC was unconstitutional.
According to them, the respondents’ “brute use of physical force, viet armis, assault, detention and threats of more physical abuse on the applicants for purposes of harassment, intimidation and arm-twisting under the guise of procuring the arrest of Peters amounts to resort to self-help…and subversion of the rule of law…”
The applicants prayed the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from further disrupting their business and arresting, detaining or harassing them.
Olanipekun and Ozekhome argued that the applicants did not commit any offence to warrant the alleged invasion and disruption of their business activities by the EFCC agents.
Besides, they said criminal liability was personal, not vicarious, and is subject to proof beyond reasonable doubt, even as the applicants cannot be punished for an offence purportedly committed by another.
But, EFCC, through its counsel Mr. Anselem Ozioko, prayed the court to dismiss the suit, adding that it was a ploy to stop the commission’s investigation of Peters.
In a counter-affidavit, Kwarbi, a member of EFCC Special Task Force on the Recovery of Stolen Public Assets, said the commission received an intelligence report in 2016 over allegations of conspiracy, stealing and money laundering involving former Minister of Petroleum Resources Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Peters and Aiteo Energy.
Kwarbi said EFCC wrote Peters to assist in the investigation, but that he “was not willing and ready to honour the invitation”.
He said Peters was not on medical vacation overseas as he claimed but was “merely trying to avoid investigation”.
EFCC said it obtained a warrant for Peters’ arrest and that its men were civil and courteous when they went to his office to “check on” him, adding that the officers were not armed nor did they brutalise or arrest anyone.
“The first respondent’s officers did not storm the first applicant’s premises in a commando-like manner or locked the gate or blocked the entry and exit gates for three hours as alleged,” the commission said.
EFCC also denied liability for any damages, adding that the applicants “did not suffer any mental or psychological trauma as alleged or at all”.
“The applicants are using this suit as a decoy to frustrate the investigation of Benedict Peters by the first respondent.”
Justice Oguntoyibo adjourned until September 27 for judgment.