P&ID officials plead guilty to fraud charge, court orders forfeiture of assets to Nigeria
Nigeria coercing false testimony from our associates, P&ID alleges
Falana hails judgment; Nigeria’s legal team meets in London
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Henry Ojelu
With the trial and conviction of both the British Virgin Islands and the Nigerian affiliate of Process & Industrial Development Limited, P&ID by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, for fraud and corruption, Nigeria is set to present the United Kingdom Appeal Court handling the case, with a new set of pleading to revoke the monumental award against the country.
This came as the the Abuja court, yesterday, ordered the Federal Government to seize all assets belonging to P&ID Limited in Virgin Islands and its Nigerian affiliate, P&ID Nigeria Limited, after they were found guilty and convicted on an 11-count charge of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.
The two firms were linked to the controversial gas supply contract that led to judgment of the British Court that ordered seizure of Nigeria’s foreign assets to the tune of $9.6billion.
The Federal Government had, through the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, vowed to investigate and prosecute both corporate entities and individuals involved in the fraudulent deal, even as it moves to appeal the British Court’s judgment.
Meanwhile, P&ID, yesterday, alleged that the Nigerian government was detaining and coercing false testimonies from its associates to implicate the company and label it a fraud.
However, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, said that the conviction of P&ID over allegation of money laundering and tax evasion and the order for forfeiture of its assets in Virgin Islands and Nigeria, will substantially help Nigeria wriggle out of the $N9.6billion London court judgment.
Nigeria to present concealed facts at UK court
Arising from the judgment, Nigeria’s legal team is set to meet in London early next week with a view to reviewing the case and making appropriate adjustment to its deposition towards revocation of the award earlier granted by the court to the company, which has now been convicted.
Vanguard learnt that with the conviction, Nigeria will likely argue before the Court of Appeal that the UK Commercial and Arbitration Court was misled to grant the huge award and should therefore, be revoked given the new and better information that was unavailable to the country at the time.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, confirmed that the legal team would be converging on London to review the case and take further steps to advance the cause of justice and Nigeria in the case, which has drawn global attention.
Malami said: “Nigeria is expected to review its strategy in view of the unfolding development as its relates to the conviction of some of the suspects that have admitted to fraud and corruption that gave rise to the award.
“The implication of Thursday’s conviction of the suspects by the Federal High Court, Abuja, Nigeria is that Nigeria has judicial proof of fraud and corruption as a foundation of the relationship that gave rise to a purported liability and arbitral award.
“From the available evidence, Nigeria now has a cogent ground to ask for the setting aside of the entire liability. This is because in law, a liability that is rooted in fraud and corruption cannot stand judicial enforce-ability,” Malami said.
Nigeria coercing false testimonies from our associates’ — P&ID
Meanwhile, P&ID, alleged that the Nigerian government was detaining and coercing false testimonies from its associates to implicate the company and label it a fraud.
The company had on Wednesday, said it will identify and seize Nigeria’s assets abroad because the Buhari administration has shown it is unwilling to negotiate the $9.6 billion judgment debt.
The company, yesterday, in its reaction to the judgment, accused the Nigerian government of using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to carry out targeted campaign of detentions aimed at individuals associated with P&ID.
“The detentions are illegal, and appear to be aimed at coercing false testimony to support Nigeria’s claim that P&ID’s award is a fraud.
“Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami has acknowledged that his aim is to provoke global opposition against P&ID, by undertaking these attacks. P&ID calls on the Government of Nigeria to accept its responsibilities under the law, and to cease the unlawful detentions.”
The company insisted that it entered into a contract to build a gas processing plant in Calabar, Cross River State, with the Nigerian government in 2010, but that the deal collapsed because the government did not fulfill its own end of the bargain.
Falana hails judgment
Reacting to the judgment, Falana said: “Once the judgment obtained from the Abuja High Court is registered abroad, it can be executed against P&ID. The judgment substantially appears to be a perfect solution to the London Court judgment. What Nigeria has to do now, is to quickly apply to have that judgment set aside on the basis of monumental fraud.
“The company has admitted and pleaded guilty to allegation of fraud. They have admitted that they did not even acquire any land in Calabar, Cross River State, for the project in the first place. This is admission that the entire project was a package of fraud, ab initio. This however, doesn’t excuse Nigeria’s criminal negligence.”
In the charge marked ABJ/ CS/230/19 and dated September 16, which was filed by the EFCC, the Federal Government cited the two convicted firms as 1st and 2nd Defendants.
It told the court that whereas two other foreign suspects, Michael Quinn and Neil Hitchcock are both dead, the third suspect, Brendan Cahill, is currently at large.
Meanwhile, the two firms, through their representatives, pleaded guilty to all the allegations FG leveled against them.
P&ID Ltd which was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands was represented by its Commercial Director, Mohammad Kuchazi, while P&ID Nigeria Limited was represented by its Director, Adamu Usman who is also a lawyer.
Kuchazi addressed the court through his lawyer, Mr, Dandison Akurunwua, while Adamu spoke on behalf of the 2nd defendant from the dock.
The two defendants were, among other things, alleged to have fraudulently claimed that they acquired land from the Cross River State Government in 2010 for the “fraudulent” gas supply project agreement that resulted to the $9.6bn judgment debt.
The prosecutor, Mr. Bala Sanga, had after the defendants pleaded guilty to the charge, prayed the court to convict them accordingly.
He further produced an investigator from the EFCC, Mr. Usman Babangida, to review the facts of the case before the court.
Babangida tendered before the court, a 325-page investigative report that was admitted in evidence.
None of the defendants opposed the admissibility of the report, as the witness narrated the investigative processes that precipitated the charge.
He told the court that investigations in both Cross River State and the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, revealed that the defendants fraudulently defrauded the Federal Government.
“From findings and response of those that were questioned, it was discovered that the company had no land in Calabar. It was also discovered that the company had defaulted in payment of tax and other remittances.
“It was also found out that the companies had no license to deal on petroleum resources and also failed to report or make any declaration to the Special Control Unit on Money Laundering,” the witness added.
Before Justice Inyang Ekwo delivered his judgment, the two firms begged the court for leniency.
In a plea of allocutus (for mercy), P&ID’s lawyer, Akurunwua and Adamu who represented the 2nd defendant, urged the court to take their level of “candour and forthrightness” into consideration, stressing that they admitted guilt instead of wasting the court’s time through unnecessary applications and arguments.
However, though the prosecutor, Mr. Sanga, commended the defendants for their “truthfulness,” he implored the court to also consider the position of the law, vis-à-vis the sections under which the charge was brought.
Consequently, in his judgment, Justice Ekwo, said he had no option than to impose the full weight of the law against the defendants.
“I have listened to allocutus by counsel to the defendants and also listened to the position of the law as presented by the prosecution. The punishment for the offence is provided for in the law, particularly the Advance Fee Fraud and other Offences Act, 2006. I will therefore make order in accordance with dictates of the law,” the judge said.
Relying on provisions of section 19(2) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011, and section 10(2) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other related offences Act, 2006, the court ordered FG to wind up the two firms and confiscate all their assets and properties in the country.
Charges against the convict
Some of the charges upon which the firms were convicted, read: “That you, Process and Industrial Developments Limited being a company incorporated in the British Virgin Island, Process and Industrial Developments (Nigeria) Limited, Michael Quinn (deceased), Neil Hitchcock (deceased), and Brendan Cahill (at large) on or about January 11, 2010, in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this court with intent to defraud conspired to obtain benefit to wit: Petroleum Product from the Federal Government of Nigeria by falsely representing to the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, that Process and Industrial Developments Limited was allocated land by the Cross River State Government which representation you knew to be false and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 8 (a) and punishable under section 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Offences Act, 2006.
“That you Process and Industrial Developments Limited being a company Incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, Process and Industrial Developments (Nigeria) Limited, Michael Quinn (deceased) Neil Hitchcock (deceased), and Brendan Cahill (at large), between July 2009 and January 2010 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this court with intent to defraud, attempted to obtain benefit to wit: Petroleum Product from the Federal Government of Nigeria by falsely representing to the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, that Process and Industrial Developments Limited was allocated land by the Cross River State Government which representation you knew to be false and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 8 (a) and punishable under section 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Offences Act, 2006.”
In count-three, FG alleged that the firms conspired with certain officials of Nigerian government to commit felony by dealing in Petroleum Product without appropriate license and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under section 1(7) of the same Act.
Aside alleging that the firms influenced the gas supply contract that was awarded to it, FG told the court that the defendants engaged in money laundering, as well as evaded tax, contrary to section 18 and punishable under section 15(2) and (3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended by Act No. 1 of 2012).
The defendants were in count seven, alleged to have in 2006, “concealed the unlawful origin of the sum of N1, 856, 503. 50 through the Guaranty Trust Bank Plc Account No. 3223250230110 operated by Process and Industrial Development (Nigeria) Ltd, when you reasonably ought to have known that the said fund formed part of the proceeds of your unlawful act to wit: Tax Evasion and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15 (2) (a) and punishable under section 15(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended by Act No. 1 of 2012).”
FG alleged that in 2007, they also concealed the unlawful origin of the sum of N3, 923, 237.65, through the account they operated with GTB.
Whereas the defendants were in count-9, accused of concealing the sum of N2, 290, 472. 50, in count-10, FG, alleged that they also concealed another N1, 414, 935.50, using the same bank account.
Likewise, in count-11, it was alleged that the 2nd defendant, “being a Designated Non-Financial Institution, DNFI, failed to comply with the requirement of submitting to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, a declaration of your activities as specified under section 5(1) (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 16(2) (b) of the same Act.”