Former Bayelsa state governor, Timipre Sylva, has denied his properties were confiscated by the EFCC which is prosecuting him for corruption, accusing the commission of falsehood in a trademark claim and counterclaim that has marked the case.
Mr. Sylva said the EFCC’s announcement on Thursday, to the effect that 48 properties belonging to him, had been seized in Abuja, was untrue, as he did not even own that number of properties.
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In a statement, a spokesperson said Mr. Sylva owns only three houses in Abuja, and all had been secured with a court order obtained ahead of the EFCC’s action.
“We were astonished to read from virtually all Nigerian News papers that 48 houses belonging to Chief Timipre Sylva were seized,” Mr. Sylva’s lawyer, Benson Ibezim, said.
“In the first instance, Chief Timipre Sylva is not having 48 properties anywhere in the world. The three properties he has in Abuja had been secured by an order of court granted by FCT High court and the Attorney General of the Federation and EFCC have been duly served since the 27th day of December, 2012.”
Mr. Sylva said he had a premonition the EFCC planned to “humiliate” him, and had sent letters to the EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, and the Attorney General of the federation, Mohammed Adoke; and served both a FCT court order restraining any action on the houses.
The order was served on December 27, 2012, while Mr. Sylva was served the EFCC’s counter court order on January 4, 2013- a week later, his lawyer said.
Claim and counterclaims
The claims contradicted the anti-corruption’s position which listed a range of properties allegedly belonging to Mr. Sylva, seized in choice areas of Abuja including Maitama, Wuse and Garki. The commission said it acted on a court order obtained on December 21, but did not state when the order was served on Mr. Sylva.
“It is elementary knowledge of law that a party can only be bound by an order of court upon service of the court order on the party,” Mr. Ibezim said.
“Rather than obeying the order of court, EFCC in flagrant disregard to the order of court are taking steps in respect of the properties by writing to the occupants of the properties covered by the order of court.”
Mr. Ibezim said even so, the order claimed by the EFCC did not empower the commission to confiscate the properties it laid claims to, but merely authorized the commission to put Mr. Sylva “on notice.”
Mr. Sylva is facing charges over allegation he diverted N6.46 billion of state funds for personal use under false pretences between 2009 and 2010.
The case has witnessed repeated accusations, denials and counter-accusations between the EFCC and Mr. Sylva since the charges were first filed early 2012.
History of corruption
Mr. Sylva is the second former governor of oil-rich Bayelsa state to face corruption charges after Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was impeached in 2004 for money laundering.
President Goodluck Jonathan, himself a former governor of the state, in 2011 blamed Mr. Sylva for many of the state’s ills, specifically citing a failed hotel project that began under Mr. Alamieyeseigha, continued during the president’s tenure as governor, before being inherited and left uncompleted by Mr. Sylva.
Mr. Sylva fell out of favour with the president and lost a re-election bid in 2011 to the president’s handpicked candidate, Seriake Dickson, a former House of Representatives member.
The EFCC’s charges say Mr. Sylva converted about N2 billion worth of properties and resources belonging to the state under false pretence, with an intention to hide the origin of the proceeds, an offence punishable by Anti-money Laundering Act.
In one of the cases, he had allegedly asked Union bank to provide a N2 billion over draft under the false pretense of augmenting state workers’ salaries.
A further N380 million, N20 million were also converted separately under similar circumstances within the same period, the commission said.
The EFCC has said it was adopting a new policy of pre-trial confiscation of assets belonging to the accused-particularly former governors and powerful politicians- to help neutralize financial war chest with which they have prolonged cases.