Friday , March 24 2023

Court acquits Diezani’s ally of $1.6bn fraud

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has discharged and acquitted the Chairman of Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Nigeria Limited, Jide Omokore, who was accused of falsely obtaining over 7, 551, 867 barrels of crude oil (Brass blend) valued at the sum of US$ 823, 075, from the Federal Government.

Omokore, who is an ally of former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, was initially arraigned in 2016 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

He was arraigned alongside Victor Briggs, Abiye Membere, and David Mbanefo on 15 counts of fraud.

The trio were alleged to have fraudulently diverted about $1.6bn alleged to be part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government and were arraigned before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba.

In the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/121/2016, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, had
alleged that Omokore obtained barrels of crude oil from FG, after he made false presentations to the NPDC and the NNPC.

One of the charge against the defendants, read: “That you, Olajide Jones Omokore, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Ltd, Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Ltd and Kolawole Akanni Aluko (now at large) between May 2013 and March 2014, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court obtained by false pretence and with intent to defraud 7, 551, 867 barrels of crude oil (Brass blend) valued at the sum of US$ 823, 075, 189.95 from Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Federal Government of Nigeria on the false pretence that you had funds (both local and foreign) necessary to support the Nigerian Petroleum Company Ltd in Petroleum operation for the OML 60, 61, 62 and 63 and you thereby committed an offence, contrary to Section 1 (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other fraud related offences Act CAP A6 2010 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the same Act.”

It will be recalled that at the earlier stage of the trial, the court had struck out the name of the former Petroleum Minister, Deziani, which was reflected in a count in the charge.

The court noted that though her name appeared in the count, she was however not properly joined as a defendant.

Meanwhile, the court, in the judgment delivered by Justice Dimgba, found the former Managing Director of the NPDC, Victor Briggs, and former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the NNPC, Abiye Membere, guilty of engaging in official corruption, contrary to Section 98 of the Criminal Code.

The EFCC had alleged that using his two companies, the 1st defendant, induced top officials of both the NPDC and the NNPC to enter into a Strategic Alliance Agreement with FG for the operation of four rich Oil Wells, OML 60, 62, 62 and 63.

It said there was evidence that the two public officers received gifts of exotic cars from Omokore and his two companies, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited, who were the 1st to 3rd defendants in the charge.

According to the EFCC, contrary to Omokore’s false representation that he had the technical and professional skills including the funds to support the petroleum operations of the NPDC in relation to the Oil Wells, he, however, in connivance with the other defendants, siphoned crude oil and sold same to third-parties.

It told the court that one of the persons involved in the alleged crude oil fraud, Kolawole Akanni Aluko, was at large, adding that the charged officials collected kickbacks in the form of gifts of exotic cars from Omokore.

The anti-graft agency maintained that actions of the defendants were in breach of Section 1 (1a) (b) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other fraud related offenses Act CAP A6 2010 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the same Act.

The defendants all pleaded not guilty to the charge but Omokore admitted that though he gave car gifts to the 4th and 5th defendants, he said it was a goodwill gesture in celebration of his 50th birthday celebration and not a kickback.

Ruling, Justice Dimgba held that the EFCC failed to, by way of credible evidence, establish elements of crime contained in the 15-count charge it preferred against the defendants.

He held that evidence of witnesses the prosecution produced before the court, among whom included the former Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Andrew Yakubu, established that the trial of the defendants was merely the case of “business relationship that went bad.”

The court said there was no evidence to nail the defendants to the allegations of fraud, inducement, obtaining by false pretense, conspiracy or money laundering and that contrary to the allegation by the EFCC, the SAA was a valid contract the parties voluntarily entered into with the 1st to 3rd defendants in 2012, with a view to improving achievements in the oil sector.

It held that evidence proved that Omokore and his companies had previous business relationships with both the NPDC and the NNPC.

More so, the court held that the EFCC did not controvert Omokore’s claim that it was the NNPC that approached him for his technical assets.

On the exotic car gifts, the court held that the EFCC failed to prove that the 4th and 5th defendants knew that it was part of the proceeds of any unlawful activities by the 1st to 3rd.

However, it noted that the 4th and 5th defendants admitted receiving the car gifts from Omokore, through Aluko who is at large.

The court held that there was evidence to prove that they accepted the gifts while aware that the 1st to 3rd defendants were still under a contractual agreement with their employers, the NPDC and the NNPC.

The court held that the action of the 4th and 5th defendants amounted to official corruption and accordingly found them giulty of the offense.

It held that under Section 98 of the Criminal Code Act, the defendants, being public officers, were prohibited from receiving such car gifts.

The court found the 4th and 5th defendants guilty on counts 10 and 11 of the charge, an offense that attracts seven years jail term.

Justice Dimgba adjourned further proceedings in the case till Wednesday for the court to pass its sentence.

He equally revoked the bail that was earlier granted to the two defendants and remanded them in custody of the EFCC pending their sentencing.

Meanwhile, the EFCC, through its lawyer, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe, said it would appeal the judgement.

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