Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has ordered the freezing of 65 bank accounts belonging to 12 firms and a man over alleged manipulation of the Nigeria’s foreign exchange market.

The order was sequel to an exparte application brought by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) against the firms, seeking the court’s intervention pending its conclusion of investigations into alleged fraudulent activities of the defendants.

The applicant, in the motion ex-parte marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/979/2020, claimed that the activities of the firms and an individual identified as Adekunle Alonge, are “the cause of the current volatility and imbalance in the foreign exchange regime in Nigeria with the attendant negative impact on the economy.”

Counsel to the plaintiff, former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mike Aondoakaa (SAN), told the court that unless the order sought was granted by the court, the plaintiff/applicant would be unable to safeguard the balances on the defendants/respondents’ account against depletion, pending the investigation on the activities of the defendants/respondents by the CBN.

The applicant’s lawyer explained that the affected firms owned by some Chinese nationals were able to access foreign exchange with the invention of the highest levels of governments in Nigeria and China with the promise to engage in the production of textile materials in Nigeria.

Aondoakaa disclosed that the firms, after accessing the foreign exchange, however, resorted to smuggling textile materials from neighbouring countries into Nigeria.

According to the senior lawyer, the CBN is carrying out the investigation in collaboration with authorities of the Republic of Benin, which he said were also conducting similar investigation.

He, therefore, prayed the court to order the applicant to freeze the bank accounts of the affected firms for the period of 180 days to enable the CBN conclude its investigations in the alleged infractions.

After listening to the submissions of the applicant’s lawyer, Justice Mohammed, who saw the need for the court to intervene, granted the order permitting the CBN to freeze the said accounts belonging to the 12 firms pending the conclusion of investigations against them.

Mohammed held that the order is for 90 days in the first instance, and could be renewed by the applicant upon a fresh application.

“An order is made freezing all transactions in the bank accounts of the defendants/respondents listed on the motion paper for the period of 90 days in the first instance, pending the outcome of the investigation currently being conducted by the CBN.

“It is also directed that if the applicant could not conclude investigation and its inquiry within the 90 days given by the court, it can seek an extension of the order upon an affidavit filed to show the extent of the investigation and the need for the court to extend the period,” he stated.

Justice Mohammed, before adjourning till November 25, 2020, for report of investigation, held that any person who is affected by the freezing order may apply to the court to be heard in the matter.

The affected firms are Adekunle Alonge, Armadillo Integrated Services, FTM Capital Management Limited, Sonora Asset Management Limited, Sonora Capital & Inv Limited, Sonora Capital Investment Limited, Sonora Capital & Investment Limited and Sonora Capital and Investment Limited.

Others are Sonora Capital Investment Limited, Sonora Consult, Sonora Energy & Allied Services Limited, Sonora Energy and Allied Services Limited, VIP Impress Hollywood Limited and Vlisco Nigeria Limited.

The said accounts are held in Zenith Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, FCMB, United Bank for Africa (UBA), Access Bank, First Bank, Skye Bank, Heritage Bank, Sterling Bank, Union Bank, Ecobank, Stanbic IBTC and FSDH.

In an affidavit in support of the motion, the applicant claimed that “the investigation being carried out concerns what has been discovered to be serious infractions by the defendants/respondents in connection with some transactions, and non-documentation by the defendants/respondents in violation of the CBN circular TED/FEM/GEN/01/010 on ‘Inclusion of some imported goods and services on the list of items not valid for foreign exchange in Nigeria’s foreign exchange market’ of June 23, 2015.”

The affidavit deposed to by a Deputy Manager in the CBN governor’s department, Mr. Innocent Okocha, specifically accused the defendants/ respondents of engaging in “accessing/procuring of foreign exchange from the Nigerian Foreign Exchange Market in furtherance of the smuggling/importation of goods which fall under goods and services prohibited under the circular referenced in paragraph (b) above.