By Egufe Yafugborhi
A Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt on Wednesday declared to try in absentia, Saipem Nigeria and it parents company in Italy, Saipem SPA over alleged $130Million fraud suit filed by Rivers State Government against Saipem Nigeria Contracting Limited and six others.
The Court, presided over by Justice Okogbue Gbasam, gave the decision to parties in the case before adjourning Wednesday hearing to Thursday.
Defendants in Suit No: PHC/3106/CR/2021, include Saipem SPA (1st Defendant), Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited (2nd Defendant), Mr. Walter Peviana (3rd Dfendant), Kelechi Chinakwe (4th Defendant), Giandomenico Zingali (5th Defendant), Vitto Testaguzza (6th Defendant) and Davide Anelli (7th Defendant).
The State had sued the defendants over an alleged conspiracy to cheat and with intent to defraud the Government of Rivers State the sum of $130 Million USD, being advanced payment for construction of the OCGT Power Plant in Port Harcourt.
At the hearing Wednesday, counsel for first, second, third and sixth defendants, Odein Ajumogobia, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), informed the judge that he had preliminary objection boarding on the jurisdiction of the court to proceed with the trial.
According to him, the said objection was filed on January 31, 2022, and served on Tuesday, February 1.
But, counsel for the State, Godwin Obla, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), argued that the practice rules state that the prosecution has about seven days to respond to the objection raised by the counsel to the defendants.
Obla had earlier drew the court’s attention to the realisation the first and second defendants (Saipem SPA and Saipem Nigeria Contracting Limited respectively), were not represented by anybody in any capacity, hence, should be tried in absentia.
In addition, three expatriates staff of Saipem namely, Giandomenico Zingali, Vitto Testaguzza, and Davide Anelli, who had been declared wanted by the court, will also be tried in absentia.
Justice Okogbule Gbasam adjourned the matter till Thursday, 3 February, 2022 for hearing the objection and possibly continuation of the trial,
In view of the objection challenging jurisdiction of the court, the judge decided to abridge time to hear the application by counsel to the defendants.