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UK court authorises SSS victim Williams Emovbira to seize $21 million from CBN account with JP Morgan in New York

The British-Nigerian businessman narrated how he was abused and defrauded by the Nigerian domestic intelligence office in the 1980s.

• August 21, 2023

A court in the United Kingdom has authorised Louis Williams Emovbira, a British-Nigerian abused and defrauded by the State Security Service (SSS) in 1986, to seize $21 million and nearly £20,000 from Nigeria’s central bank account domiciled in JP Morgan in the United States, according to court filings seen by Peoples Gazette.

By the judgment of Justice Mary Clare Moulder, Mr Emovbira has the UK’s legal backing to approach JP Morgan in New York and seize $21,231,960.74 and £19,763.130 from the Central Bank of Nigeria’s account domiciled in the top American bank.

In a June 26, 2023, lawsuit filed before the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Mr Emovbira argued his entitlement to the judgement fund from the savings of Nigeria at JP Morgan.

“Plaintiff has obtained (and is entitled to the recognition) of a money judgment in its favour and against the Nigerian government defendant,” his lawyers said.

Mr Emovbira had obtained the judgment from the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice on November 9, 2018, but the money had accrued a nine per cent interest over a period of almost five years since the judgment was given.

Court filings said Mr Emovbira in 1986 guaranteed $6.5 million payable within 90 days for his client, Pearl Konsult Ltd (PKL), to export foodstuff to Nigeria from England after a British lawyer Reuben Gale approached PKL and proposed to pay N30 million in form of bank drafts to be cashed in a Nigerian bank.

But to Mr Emovbira’s utter shock, his bank account was frozen as soon as the drafts became ready for encashment. The plot thickened when he later discovered that Mr Gale was not the businessman he had claimed to be but an operative of the brutal secret police, SSS, the document said. Mr Gale was said to be acting on behalf of a certain Mr Chukwu at the time, who was reportedly linked to the SSS, filings said.

The court also heard that the British-Nigerian businessman was later arrested by the SSS, acting on orders from the CBN, which then accused him of conspiring to sell foreign currency without authorisation, in violation of the Exchange Control and Anti-Sabotage Decree 1984.

Mr Emovbira said he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 1986 but managed to escape in 1989 and fled to London. But he stated that all efforts to retrieve his money from the Nigerian government so far have fallen through.

Mr Emovbira got a presidential pardon from then-military head of state Ibrahim Babangida in on August 23, 1993, and an order approving his recompensation for the scammed funds. He said he did not receive the money.

“The government admitted that the funds it promised to repay Dr Williams had been “obtained by fraud deception and racketeering influenced scheme of premeditated felony,” Mr Emovbira quoted a section of his Fidelity Guarantee as saying.

A special judicial review panel under Ernest Shonekan of the Interim National Government (ING) after findings found Mr Emovbira to be innocent of the charge preferred against him and ratified General Babangida’s pardon.

The presidency had written the CBN directing the payment of stolen funds on two separate occasions, September 14 and 28, 1993, still there was no response from the nation’s apex bank, he said.

CBN’s silence on paying the owed sums caused the legal battles to linger for years until Nigeria returned to civillian rule.

Then-CBN governor Charles Soludo also acknowledged the funds owed Mr Emovbira.

Mr Emovbira also submitted to the court a presidential directive dated July 1, 2009, and signed by Umar Yar’Adua, which asked the CBN to immediately pay the victim to avoid further ceaseless litigations over the matter.

A spokesman for the CBN did not immediately return a request seeking comments about Mr Emovbira’s lawsuit. But the bank had filed a motion requesting the case to be transferred from the Supreme Court of the State of New York to a federal court where Nigeria can plead sovereign immunity to argue that Nigeria is a sovereign state which cannot subject itself to the orders of other nations.

“The CBN respectfully requests that the above-captioned action be removed from the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, in which it was filed, to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and for such and other further relief as the Court may deem just and proper,” the bank’s lawyers said in an August 18, 2023, motion.

The defendants include federal government, attorney general of the federation, CBN, JP Morgan & Co and 10 other parties who have yet to be named in the suit.

Mr Emovbira also urged President Bola Tinubu to direct the CBN to release the funds to him to end the decades-long legal crisis and spare the Nigerian government the embarrassment that could arise from enforcing the confiscation order in a foreign bank.

Mr Emovbira said the funds, when recovered, would be used to improve the health and education of children in Nigeria.

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