Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Thursday ordered the Federal Government to seize all assets belonging to P&ID Limited, Virgin Island 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 the British Court’s judgement ordering the 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 that were involved in the fraudulent deal.
The government has also initiated moves to appeal the judgement.
n the charge marked ABJ/ CS/230/19 and dated September 16,, filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC), the federal government listed the two convicted firms as 1st and 2nd Defendants.
It told the court that while 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 charges filed against them.
P&ID Ltd which was incorporated in the British Virgin Island 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 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 in the $9.6bn judgment debt.
The prosecution, Mr. Bala Sanga, had after the defendants pleaded guilty to the charges, prayed the court to convict them accordingly.
He also 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-paged investigative report that was admitted in evidence.
None of the defendants opposed the admissibility of the report, just as the witness explained the investigative processes that precipitated the charges
He told the court that investigations at 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.
Shortly before Justice Iyang Ekwo delivered his judgement on the matter, 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 “candor and forthrightness” into consideration, adding that they pleaded guilty instead of wasting the court’s time through unnecessary applications and arguments.
Although 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 charges were brought.
Consequently, Justice Ekwo said he had no option than to impose the full weight of the law on 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 held.
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 judge ordered the federal government to wind up the two firms and confiscate all their assets in the country.