By Abdulwahab Abdulah
An Ikeja High Court has been told how MrJohn Abebe, the brother of the late Stella Obasanjo, the former first lady of Nigeria allegedly forged documents to perpetrate $4Million fraud.
Two foreigners, Mr Paul Piche, a Norwegian and Ms Charlene Cross, a Briton, who were prosecution witnessed revealed before an Ikeja Special Offences Court that Abebe forged a Net Profit Interest Agreement (NPIA), unravelled by Statoil Nigeria.
Abebe is facing a four-count charge of forgery, fabricating evidence, using fabricated evidence and attempt to pervert the cause of justice before Justice Mojisola Dada.
Abebe however denied the charges which were proffered against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
During proceedings Tuesday, Piche who was led in evidence by EFCC prosecuting counsel Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, revealed that the alleged forgery of a Net Profit Interest Agreement (NPIA) by Abebe was unravelled by Statoil Nigeria.
According to him, Dr Abebe in 2010 tendered a copy of the amendment letter between themselves (Inducon) and BP Exploration dated 1995.
He said Statoil made enquiries from BP Exploration about the original amendment letter from 1995, which was provided to his company from BP Exploration.
“When we made comparisons of the letter we received and the one that was tendered at the Federal High Court by Inducon and Dr Abebe we saw that there were a number of inconsistencies between the two versions,” he said.
Piche who was shown the original and the allegedly forged NPIA document revealed the discrepancies in the two documents.
He said; “Annexure two is the forged amendment letter tendered by Inducon and Annexure three is the genuine version of the amendment letter that we received.
“In Annexure three, the paragraph for the $4Million dollar buyout for production of oil does not exist but it exist in Annexure two.
He said: “In Annexure two the address of the National Westminster Bank which is in 2A Charing Cross Road is all on one line whereas if you look at Annexure three, the same address is in two lines.
“The postcode of the address of the of National Westminster is WCTUH0PE with a Zero while on the Annexure Two the postcode is WCTHUHOPE with the letter O which is a wrong postcode.
“In Annexure two at the parenthesis, instead of i.e, capital L and a lower case e whereas in Annexure three, in the parenthesis you will see a lower case i and a lower case e”.
Piche also revealed to the court that the paragraphs of page two of the forged document were not justified compared to the original where all the paragraphs were justified.
He informed the court that following the discovery, Statoil petitioned the EFCC and laid a complaint December 14, 2016 at the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
He said they also petition the EFCC asking the agency to investigate the matter.
“On December 14, 2016 we laid a complaint at the State House office of the Vice President because it was obvious to us that the amendment letter has been forged.
“We sent copies of the letter to the Honourable Office of the Vice President as well as the Honourable Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation,” he said.
Under cross-examination by Mr E.D, Onyeke, a member of Abebe’s defence team, Piche admitted to have no knowledge of forensics.
He said he has a Bsc in Economics from the University of Warwick and a Masters degree in Economics from the London School of Economics.
“I’m not a forensic document examiner, I cannot tell the type of font used in the document,” he said.
He admitted to the court that his company did not take any legal action on the alleged forgery until 2016 after judgments were given at Federal High Court and Court of Appeal in favour of Inducon, Abebe’s company against Statoil.
“I’m aware of the judgment against my company at the Court of Appeal on June 5, 2012 and I’m aware of my company’s appeal at the Supreme Court,” Piche said.
Testifying, Ms Cross the second prosecution witness described herself as a legal practitioner and provided to the court her knowledge of the business contract.
“I’m the in-house lawyer, Assistant General Manager Dispute Resolution Projects and I’m a Solicitor working for BP Exploration on London. I manage all BP dispute globally with the exception of the U. S
“I know Inducon Ltd and Statoil Nigeria Ltd, I’m aware of rhe fact that there was a relationship between Inducon Ltd from 1990 to approximately 1992 onwards.
“I’m aware that there were two aspects to the relationship, the first consisted of a consultancy agreement and the second consisted of a NPIA which was signed on Nov. 12, 1993.” She said.
Cross told the court that the original NPIA signed by Inducon and BP Exploration in 1993 was available because it was archived by BP over the years.
“The original was contained in BP Archive System, which is a very organised system in place which consists of documents finally executed and sent for safekeeping.
“The NPIA was sent to the BP Archiving System on Nov. 16, 1993 and it shows on the upper sheer that the Records Managing Unit received this document for safekeeping.
“There is a barcode in the document which identifies the BP Archive System,” she said.
Cross told the court that alleged $4Million buy out option could not be inserted by BP into the NPIA.
“It makes no sense whatsoever for BP to have inserted such language in the document, in 1993, the NPIA makes clear that the buy-out option is in force as long as the 1993 NPIA is in force.
“There is no reason for BP to have inserted this provision on this letter of intent at this stage. BP’s provision is that it never agreed to those wordings.
“The statement that it applied to a pre-production stage of the buy-out is incorrect. I don’t know how the document was put together but this is not a BP document.
“In the months prior to March 2018, BP was approached by the EFCC to ascertain the authencity of some documents and thus culminated in me writing a statement to the EFCC on March 26,” she said.
Cross in her testimony, also corroborated the evidence of Piche by describing details of the document that revealed the alleged forgery.
On cross-examination by Onyeke, Cross also admitted to not being a trained forensic document expert.
She however ststed that she made her statement to the EFCC while in London.
Earlier during the trial a member of Abebe’s defence team, Mr Uche Nwokedi (SAN) through a Motion on Notice brought pursuant to Section 36 of the 1999 constitution sought to strike out the charge against Abebe b.
Nwokedi said the allegations raised by the EFCC in the charges were allegations which were previously raised in suits at the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal.
Opposing the application, Oyedepo urged the court to strike out the application because it lacked merit.
“There were two judgments at the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal, however there were no pronouncements freeing the defendant from the allegations before the court,” Oyedepo said.
In a ruling Justice Mojisola Dada dismissed the application of the defence.
“Nothing can be gleaned by ousting the jurisdiction of this court, the application is hereby wanting and is hereby dismissed,” she said.
According to Oyedepo, Abebe committed the offence on June 22, 2010 in Lagos.
“Abebe knowingly forged BP Exploration Nigeria Ltd’s letter dated Nov. 30,1995 to Inducon (Nigeria) Ltd.
“He committed the forgery by inserting in page two of the said letter the following words: “Also note that the ‘Buy-Out Option’ only applies to the pre-production stage of the NPIA. The $4million buy-out is thus irrelevant from production of oil in any of our fields.
“He purported same to have been issued by BP Exploration Nigeria Limited,” the EFCC prosecutor said.
The prosecution claims that the defendant used the allegedly forged letter as evidence in suit No. FHC/L/CS/224/2010 between Abebe, Inducon Nigeria Ltd and Statoil Nigeria Ltd. at the Federal High Court.
According to the EFCC, the defendant through his actions attempted to pervert the course of justice.
The offences violated Sections 120(1), 120(2), 126(2) of the Criminal Code Law of 2003.
The case was adjourned till today for continuation of trial.