….convicts ex-NNPC, NPDC directors over exotic car gifts
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Tuesday, discharged and acquitted an oil mogul and ally to the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, Mr 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.
However, the court, in the judgement that was delivered by Justice Nnamdi 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.
It said there was evidence that the duo, being 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.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had in the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/121/2016, alleged that Omokore obtained barrels of crude oil from FG after he made false presentations to the NPDC and the NNPC.
It 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, SAA, with FG for the operation of four rich Oil Wells, OML 60, 62, 62 and 63.
According to the EFCC, contrary to Omokore’s false representation that he had the technical competence, professional skills and 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 EFCC maintained that actions of the defendants were in breach of Section 1 (1a) (b) 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.
The prosecution closed its case on December 15, 2022, after it called a total of 17 witnesses that testified before the court.
On their part, the defendants, presented four witnesses to establish their innocence.
While all the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge, Omokore, however, admitted that though he gave car gifts to the 4th and 5th defendants, he said it was not kickback but a goodwill gesture he made in celebration of his 50th birthday celebration.
While delivering his judgement on the matter, 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 pretence, conspiracy or money laundering.
It held 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 showed that Omokore and his companies had previous business relationship 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 issue of car gifts, the court held that the EFCC failed to prove that the 4th and 5th defendants knew that it formed part of 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 offence.
It held that under Section 98 of the Criminal Code Act, the defendants, being public officers, were prohibited from receiving such car gifts.
Consequently, the court found the 4th and 5th Defendants guilty on counts 10 and 11 of the charge, an offence that attracts seven years jail term.
Justice Dimgba subsequently adjourned further proceedings in the case till Wednesday for the court to pass its sentence, even as he revoked the bail that was earlier granted to the two defendants.
He remanded them in custody of the EFCC pending their sentencing.
It will be recalled that the court had at the earlier stage of the trial, 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 in the charge.
Meantime, the EFCC, through its lawyer, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe, said it would appeal the judgement.
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 Re
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