The Court of Appeal in Abuja ruled on Monday that Chief Okoi Obono-Obla-led Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property lacked the power to prosecute crimes bordering on non-declaration of assets.
The court in its judgment delivered on Monday held that the panel, by the Act establishing it, could only investigate.
In its unanimous judgment, a five-man panel of the court led by Justice Hussein Muhktar, also held that the panel lacked the constitutional power to seize property of alleged offenders.
The court delivered the judgement in an appeal filed by Tijani Tumsah to challenge an order of interim forfeiture made by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja in respect of some 86 cars linked to Tijani and his brother, Ibrahim Tumsah.
The panel had in the name of the Federal Government last week arraigned the Tumsahs before the Federal High Court on two counts of failure to declare their assets.
But in the appeal filed by their lawyer, Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN), the appellant asked the court to determine whether the suit culminating in the forfeiture order was validly instituted by the panel before the court below.
The appellant also asked the Court of Appeal to determine whether or not the panel could validly rely on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act to obtain the freezing order granted by the FCT High Court on December 6, 2017.
The appellant also urged the court to determine whether the lower court was right when it refused to set aside its interim freezing order.
Delivering judgment in the appeal on Monday, the Court of Appeal resolved all the issues in favour of the appellant.
It held that nothing in the Recovery of Public Property Act Cap R 4, LFN 2004 “that empowers the panel to initiate court proceedings pursuant to its investigative powers for the purpose of obtaining an interim order for forfeiture of property.
It added that “the panel cannot clothe itself with the clothes not given to it by the Act that established it. It cannot take over the responsibilities of the EFCC.
“The power to investigate and prosecute is solely for the EFCC and such cannot be taken over by any person or agency.
“The provision of the Act is unambiguous and not confusing. The powers of the panel are to conduct investigation on any officer who has corruptly enriched himself of breached the code of conduct.
“No power or authority is conferred on the panel to prosecute offenders.”