Thursday, February 22, 2024

UK court rejects Tinubu’s sovereign immunity appeal; allows SSS victim Emovbira Williams to seize $21 million from Nigeria’s account with JP Morgan

Mr Williams escaped from Nigerian prison in 1989.

• January 22, 2024
Nigeria and UK flags
Nigeria and UK flags

A British court has dismissed an appeal by Bola Tinubu’s administration and upheld the ruling of Justice Mary Clare Moulder, who earlier authorised Louis Emovbira Williams to take $21 million and approximately £20,000 out of Nigeria’s central bank account with JP Morgan, court filings sighted by Peoples Gazette showed.

“The application of the defendants is dismissed and the default judgment granted by Moulder J on 9 November 2018 remains in effect,” Justice Robert Bright said in a judgment on December 19, 2023.

Mr Williams, a British-Nigerian citizen, had sued the Nigerian government in the foreign court to report the abuse and fraud he suffered at the hands of Nigerian authorities, including the repressive secret police, State Security Service, following a business deal that fell through.

In his allegations, Mr Williams, who argued that his torture and financial losses followed a multimillion-dollar deal with Nigeria, disclosed that he guaranteed the payment of $6.5 million in 1986 for the importation of foodstuff to Nigeria from England into the account of a UK trustee, per the instructions of the Nigerian government.

The deal went sour after the Federal Government refused to fulfil part of the bargain by failing to refund Mr Williams. Upon travelling to Nigeria, he was arrested, tried by a military tribunal for economic sabotage charges and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1986.

Mr Williams escaped from Nigerian prison in 1989, three years after his sentence and fled to London. In August 1993, then-military head of state Ibrahim Babangida gave him a presidential pardon absolving him of all the charges and ordered that he be fully compensated for the scammed funds.

Still, Mr Williams’ money was withheld as the CBN, for years, refused to heed the directive that approved the payment of the owed funds, even after the West African nation returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Mr Williams filed the matter before Ms Moulder at the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice and on November 9, 2018, he got the legal authorisation to withdraw the funds from Nigeria’s savings account with JP Morgan in the United States.

The money had accrued a nine per cent interest over a period of almost five years since the judgment was given.

In an attempt to wriggle its way out of making the payment, the CBN countered the ruling that Nigeria was a sovereign state and was not subject to the orders of other nations.

Justice Bright ruled out Nigeria’s immunity plea as too weak to stand, asserting that Mr Williams’ business deal with the Nigerian government involved funds that got transferred to a trustee who is a UK citizen in a UK bank.

“Given the terms of the trust agreement that is central to Dr Williams’ complaint – i.e., that the funds guaranteed by him were to be held on trust by a trustee in England, acting on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria – it also seems to me to fall within section 3(1)(b),” Mr Bright of the High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division, ruled on December 19, 2023.

“Accordingly, the Federal Government of Nigeria does not have immunity from the proceedings in this action,” the British justice stated.

The judgment would strengthen Mr Williams’ argument before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, where his lawyers have filed a notice to withdraw the $21 million in UK judgment money from Nigeria’s account with JP Morgan.

The law firm of Brown Gavalas & Fromm LLP and other lawyers hired by the government of President Tinubu have been fighting against the withdrawal on procedural grounds. All parties have concluded their filings ahead of a decision due soon by the court.

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