Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court has ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to release all items seized from a social media influencer, Ismaila Mustapha, popularly known as Mompha, when he was arrested.
Justice Liman made the order while ruling on an application filed by Mompha’s Counsel, Mr. Gboyega Oyewole (SAN), who led Kolawole Salami and Adefolaju Ademola in asking the court for the order to release the seized items.
Mompha is standing trial alongside his company, Ismalob Global Investment Limited, on an amended 22-count charge bordering on cyber fraud and money laundering to the tune of N33billion.
When the case was called, Oyewole informed the court that his application, dated July 6, sought an order of the court for the release of items obtained from his client, including five wristwatches, an Apple iPod, an iPhone, Apple Laptop, one sunglass, which were found on him upon his arrest and subsequently seized for the purpose of investigation.
He said although the Commission had released the AirPod and sunglass when the application was filed, the other properties sought for were still with it.
He argued that the prosecution, upon closing its case, has not been able to provide any evidence showing that the properties seized are subject of any criminal investigation and was not in court as exhibits, arguing that no application has been brought to the court seeking for an interim forfeiture of the properties and without such order, the properties cannot be detained for so long.
Oyewole submitted that the facts stated in the counter-affidavit are mere assertions and not substantive and urged the court to grant the prayers of the defendant.
Responding, EFCC’s Counsel, S.I. Suleiman, told the court that the properties were being investigated for a different case, arguing that there is an exception in the constitution that allows for temporary possession of properties for the sole purpose of investigation.
He argued that the defendant was not entitled to the prayers sought for.
However, Justice Liman, in a bench ruling, held that although the prosecution has the right to seize a property during an arrest, likewise a duty to approach the court for an interim order, due processes must be observed and failure to do this is considered illegal.
The Judge held: “None of these items was listed as exhibit, none of the item was listed on the charge. At this stage, there is nothing on record that the items seized were been investigated upon. The retention of the property without compliance to due process violates the requirements of Section 29 of the Act.
“Failure to release the property is illegal. As at today, no charge has been file regards the items. It is too long to withhold the applicant properties.”
Justice Liman, therefore, ordered the release and return to the defendant, properties taken from him.
The defendant also applied for the release of his international passport, which was not opposed by the prosecution.