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Court reserves ruling over $27.2m, N3bn Delta state freeze fund

An Abuja High Court on Tuesday reserved ruling on the application brought by the Delta State Government that seeks to vacate an ex-parte order that frozen $27.2m and N3bn share it got from Paris Club refund.

A consulting firm, Mauritz Walton Nig had two weeks ago obtained the order freezing the bank account where the sum was lodged over an alleged indebtedness.

At the resumed hearing on Tuesday, Justice Yusuf Halilu of FCT High Court, said he would communicate date of ruling to the parties after listening to the submissions of the counsel of both parties in the suit.

Moving the application Alex Izinyon (SAN), counsel to the Delta State Government urged the court to vacate the interim order that frozen the Delta state government account on the ground that the order was made based on ‘concealment of facts’.

Izinyon also prayed the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit on the ground that the respondent/plaintiff had misled the court in issuing the interim order.

The counsel posited that the court lacks territorial jurisdiction to entertain the case on a matter that happened in Delta state.

Izinyon stated that the plaintiff by failing to tell the court that the contract entered into in 2014 had been terminated as the time the plaintiff wanted payment in 2016.

“He (plaintiff) didn’t show the court a document that terminated the contract on 10 March 2016. That document was not presented to the court but he shown only the letter of engagement without showing disengagement.”

“One of the terms of agreement was that the work will be concluded in three months. The engagement letter was issued in 2014. But the contract was terminated in 2016 and plaintiff was told a new hand had been hired.

A letter was also tendered dated November 2016, wherein the plaintiff made a passionate plea for a review of their disengagement, which also stated that we are open to renegotiate fees”, Izinyon said.

He argued that all the actions relating to the contract including signing of documents took place in Asaba, Delta state, and the plaintiff was told to report to the state government in Asaba and therefore ought to file the suit in Delta state.

Izinyon argued further that the plaintiff ought go to court to seek redress for termination of the contract at that point in time rather than asking for renegotiation.”This is self induced, they went to sleep until first week of August 2017, to bring the case”, he said.

He also said there are three suits filed against the respondents of the same subject matter which amounts to an abuse of court process.

He therefore urged the court to discharge, dismiss the suit in its entirety.

However, counsel to the plaintiff, Emeka Okoro, said the application to vacate frozen account should be discontinuance. He said the prayer was not competent.

He said: “The application being moved today is more than seven days, because of the rules of the court that application can only be moved within seven days. We know it was filed but if it has not been moved it is regarded as dormant”, he said.

He submitted that at the time the plaintiff moved his application, there was no material suppressed by him.
He pleaded with the court not to allow the defendants not to take the statement of pleading to renegotiate out of context

He said the plaintiff had performed the contract. “We have done a job within the three months stipulated in the contract and we need our money”

On why the money should be kept in a escrow account, the counsel stated that when the first tranche was paid to the state, it refused to pay the plaintiff hence the money should remain there it is dissipated.

On jurisdiction, Emeka said the assignment given to the plaintiff is a contract that can only be performed in Abuja where DMO, Ministry of Finance and the money to be collected is from the Federal Government, all based in Abuja.
“And all are within the jurisdiction of this honourable court. We only have to report back to Asaba State capital”, he said.

He said granting the application of the defendants without hearing the plaintiff’s motion of notice is like chasing away the plaintiff from the seat of justice.

It could be recalled that an FCT High Court froze the Delta State account on alleged failure of the state government to pay consultancy fees to Mauritz Walton Nig. Ltd.

The state government reportedly owes Mauritz Walton Nigeria Ltd, the sum of $27,274,135 and N3bn for facilitating the refund of excess deductions made from its monthly allocations for servicing the Paris Club foreign loan.

The court had ordered Zenith Bank to set up an escrow account for the frozen fund pending the determination of the Motion on Notice. Zenith Bank is a co-defendant in the suit.

The court bared the state government from accessing the $27.2m and N3bn in the said account.

Mauritz Walton Nig Ltd, claimed that the frozen sum is what was due to it as consultancy fee from the money the state received as “proceeds of the refund of excess deductions on foreign loans and miscellaneous charges (aka Paris-London Club Refund).”

Mauritz Walton Nig Ltd said that going by their contract with the Delta State Government, the company was entitled to 30 per cent of the total sum received by the state government.

Mauritz Walton Nig Ltd is said to have assisted some state governments in computing and negotiating the refund of the excess deductions on the foreign loan.

He also urged the court to accelerate the process in the interest of the public

Andrew Orolua, Abuja

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