Court fixes Feb 27 for hearing
Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited and Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited yesterday asked the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to discharge the order of forfeiture, which it granted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of their oil blocs.
The court had, on January 26, granted an order of interim forfeiture of Oil Prospecting License (OPL 245) to the Federal Government pending investigation and prosecution of suspects in the $1.1 billion Malabu Oil scam. The court granted the order following an ex-parte motion filed by EFCC through its counsel, Johnson Ojogbane.
The property is to be managed by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) on behalf of the Federal Government, pending the conclusion of investigation and prosecution of all those involved.
When the matter came up yesterday, counsel to Shell Exploration Limited, Prof. Olaniwun Ajayi (SAN), told the court that the first applicant had filed two applications, with one seeking the discharge of the order of forfeiture to the Federal Government which the court made pending the conclusion of the matter.
The company also wants the court to dismiss or strike out the suit as well as order, “staying, injuncting or suspending the effects of the interim order made by this court in favour of the EFCC directing that OPL 245 be managed by the Department of Petroleum Resources on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria pending the conclusion of investigation and prosecution.”
The company held that the execution of the action by the EFCC constitutes a gross abuse of office and process of the court and that the process of procuring the ex-parte order was unconstitutional and unlawful. It further held that the respondents misrepresented and suppressed material facts in obtaining the order and prayed the court to discharge the order in the interest of justice.
Counsel to the second applicant, Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited, Babatunde Fapohunda (SAN) who also filed the same application, urged the court to set aside its earlier order in the interest of justice. Prosecuting counsel, Ojogbane, however, informed the court of his inability to respond to the two applications due to circumstances “beyond our control.”
He prayed the court for an adjournment to enable him respond to the two applications.
Responding to the application for adjournment, Ajayi reminded the court that the prosecution had said the matter was of urgent public interest and wondered why the prosecution had failed to respond to an application filed over two weeks ago.
According to him, “Un- der Section 19 (2b and c) of the EFCC Act, the court is enjoined to give accelerated hearing brought to it under the Act and that the Federal High Court Practice Direction 2013 also stresses the need for accelerated hearing of criminal matters brought before the court.”
He, however, prayed the court to give a short adjournment given the urgency of the matter and the public interest the respondents attached to it. The trial judge, Justice John Tsoho, later adjourned till February 27 to hear the two pending applications. In the ex-parte application on which the court granted a forfeiture order, Ojogbane had prayed the court to grant the order pending the investigation and prosecution of the suspects.
Others joined in the application are Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited, Shell Nigeria Exploration Limited, Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd and other individuals. The EFCC, in the motion, noted that the investigation bordered on alleged acts of conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering.
New Telegraph recalls that the EFCC had, in December 2016, charged nine suspects, including the former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), over the issue. Adoke was accused of illegally transferring more than $800 million purportedly meant for the purchase of the OPL 245 to a former Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete of Malabu Oil.