Following the report that the son of the President-elect, Seyi Tinubu, allegedly bought a $10.8m London mansion that is under fraud investigation by the Federal Government, lawyers said doing so portends great risk for the buyer.
Bloomberg reported that Seyi bought the house in 2017 through his firm. Citing previously unreported British company documents, the report said the property, acquired by Seyi’s firm, was part of the biggest corruption scandals the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was seeking to probe.
Politics Nigeria understands that the documents, according to Bloomberg show that Seyi, 37 is “the main shareholder of Aranda Overseas Corp., an offshore company that paid £9 million ($10.8 million) to Deutsche Bank for the property in north London in late 2017.”
“The private three-floor residence in St. John’s Wood — a district favoured by American bankers — is equipped with an eight-car driveway, two gardens, electric gates and a gym,” the report said.
It said at the time of the purchase, the Nigerian government was seeking to arrest the house’s former owner, accusing him of going on the run while owing the country an oil-trading debt worth more than $1.5 billion.
“The state was also attempting to confiscate the upscale real estate and other assets it suspected had been acquired by the businessman, Kolawole Aluko, with the profits of crime,” Bloomberg said.
Reacting to the report, a lawyer, Mr. Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, said it is risky and unadvisable to buy a property that is under litigation or under investigation. He said it is wise to avoid such property.
According to him:
“It is not advisable when you know a property is under investigation. It could be an investigation or litigation. If it is litigation, it is called ‘lis pendis’. It means that the property is a subject of litigation in court. It is not advisable to buy such property until when the matter is dispensed off. It is at your own peril to do so. The moment you are aware that the property is under investigation or litigation, it is always good for the buyer or the person to be restrained because you don’t know how the court will eventually rule.
“The problem again in Nigeria is that, when you have a matter in court, the other aggrieved party may appeal against that judgment, which means that it may have to end up at the Supreme Court,” he said.
However, Dr. Yemi Omodele suggested that if the buyer didn’t know that the property is under investigation, the issue of a bonafide purchaser would assist in that regard.
“Anybody who wants to involve in a purchase of property under investigation by EFCC, ICPC, NDLEA or by any law enforcement agency must be careful because, if the property has been acquire by the suspect or the defendant with the proceeds of crime, it is not good for somebody to buy it.
“If at the end of the day, investigation reveals that the property in question was purchased with the proceeds of crime, it suffices to say that such property may be forfeited to the government, or the property may be seized,” he said.
Omodele explained that an unknown purchaser of value would be regarded as a ‘bonafide purchaser’ while a purchaser who is aware of the investigation bought an ‘encumbered property’.
He explained that ‘bonafide purchaser’ would not avail the buyer, if the seller mischievously sells because of the investigation, because the fellow is selling to cover up his or her tracks.
Also, Christian Oti, a lawyer, said it depends on certain variables. For instance, the court (assuming it gets to court), he pointed out, may consider whether notice of such investigation was made to the public, patently or otherwise and whether the vendor and purchaser colluded to dissipate the property (subject of the investigation). Then, the court may nullify such a sale upon conviction of the vendor.
“Consequently, if the purchaser bought without notice of such investigation and none was indeed given by the investigating body, plus no bad faith on the part of the purchaser, then I believe the court will not void the sale. This is because an investigation, and nothing more, is not a suit or a charge affecting the property,” he argued.
Another lawyer, Festus Sanmi Onifade said there are certain basic encumbrances that an investigation will reveal to a prospective buyer, insisting that a court of competent jurisdiction could order the confiscation of such property if it was bought mischievously without due diligence.
Emmanuel Ekwe stressed that as a matter of law and common sense, a person who intends to purchase a landed property whether in Nigeria or outside the country must conduct proper investigation and carry out due diligence and searches in all places and offices where there may be particulars or details of the property.
“In the case of Seyi, who was linked to the purchase of a London mansion for $10.8m under fraud investigation by the Federal Government, he would obviously lose same.
“Ignorance of material documents or facts at the time of purchasing the property is of no moment as it cannot qualify for a better excuse with the ambit of the law.”