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OPL 245: Judge indicts Shell, ENI

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An Italian judge, Giusy Barbara, found yesterday that Eni and Royal Dutch Shell were fully aware that their 2011 purchase of Nigeria’s Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL 245) would result in corrupt payments to Nigerian politicians and officials.

Italy’s Eni and Shell bought the OPL 245 offshore field for about $1.3 billion from Malabu Oil and Gas Limited owned by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mr. Dan Etete, in a deal that spawned one of the oil industry’s largest corruption scandals.

It was alleged that about $1.1 billion of the money paid for the oil block was siphoned to agents and middlemen.
The Milan judge made the comment in her written reasons for the September conviction of a Nigerian, Mr. Emeka Obi and Italian, Gianluca Di Nardo, both middlemen in the OPL 245 deal, for corruption.

They were jailed for four years.
“The management of oil companies Eni and Shell … were fully aware of the fact that part of the $1.092 billion paid would have been used to compensate Nigerian public officials who had a role in this matter and who were circling their prey like hungry sharks,” Barbara said in her reasoning.

“It was not mere connivance, but a conscious adhesion to a predatory project damaging the Nigerian state,” she added.
She also said money was given to some Eni managers.
Obi and Di Nardo have been tried separately from Eni and Shell, which also face corruption allegations over the same deal in a hearing that is expected to drag on for months.

But responding to the judge’s remarks, Eni said it would analyze the remarks, noting that a fuller account of the facts and evidence surrounding the deal would emerge only from the main trial.

The Italian company has previously denied any wrongdoing.
Eni shares fell slightly on the judge’s remarks but quickly recovered ground. Shell stock was barely changed.

Under the deal, Eni and Shell jointly acquired the OPL 245 field from a company owned by former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete who, the judge noted, had been put under investigation in 2003 in France for alleged money-laundering.
Shell also said yesterday that neither Obi nor Di Nardo had worked for it and that there was no basis to convict it or any of its former staff of alleged offenses related to the oil deal.

Eni Chief Executive, Claudio Descalzi, and four ex-Shell managers, including former Shell’s Head of Upstream, Malcolm Brinded, are also accused of international corruption in the main trial.

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EFCC araigns Ecobank

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Lagos Zonal office, on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, arraigned Ecobank Plc before Justice Saliu Seidu of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos on a five-count charge bordering on conversion of funds to the tune of $50,000 and N9.2million.

Ecobank is facing trial alongside one of its employees, Anieka Udoh.

One of the counts reads: “That you, Ecobank Plc and one Anieka Udoh, whilst being an employee of Eco Bank Plc sometime in 2009, at Lagos within the jurisdiction of the Honourable court, negligently failed to exercise due diligence in relation to conduct of financial transactions with Major General Umaru Mohammed and fraudulently converted Major General Umaru Mohammed’s Ecobank MasterCard Account No. 0015052989 from debit card to credit card and consequently debited Major General Umaru Mohammed’s account in the sum of over USD 50,000 (Fifty Thousand United States Dollars) without the knowledge and authority of Major General Umaru Mohammed.”

At the scheduled arraignment on March 7, 2019, the first defendant, Ecobank, had no legal representative.

However, at today’s sitting, the first defendant, Ecobank Plc represented by E. Majemite, pleaded not guilty to the charge preferred against it.

Counsel to the second defendant, Udoh O.J. Owoh, informed the court about a pending application for bail on behalf of his client, who pleaded not guilty to the charge when he was arraigned.

In her response, counsel to the prosecution, Bilkisu Buhari, objected to the bail application, stating that “the defendant is a flight risk if granted bail.”

Justice Seidu, after listening to both parties, admitted the second defendant to bail in the sum of N20million and two sureties in like sum.

One of the sureties must be a relation to the second defendant, resident in Lagos and have landed property in Lagos, whose title documents must be verified by the court.

The second surety must be a civil servant on grade level 16 in Lagos.

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CCT adjourns over Onnoghen’s high BP, tooth ache

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Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen has appealed Monday’s decision by the Code of Conduct Tribunal to delay ruling in his applications challenging its jurisdiction and its impartiality in the criminal case against him.

CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, in a ruling on March 11, ordered a day-to-day trial in the charge of non-declaration of assets against Onnoghen and said a ruling in the two applications by the defendants would be delivered at the time of judgment.

Onnoghen, in a three-ground notice of appeal filed on Tuesday, argued the CCT erred in law in its interpretation of Section 369(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) when it ruled that its decision in the applicant’s applications shall be given at the point of judgment.

The suspended CJN argued that it was wrong for the CCT to refuse to deliver ruling after hearing the application challenging “constitutional jurisdiction” of the tribunal to hear and determine the charges filed against him.

He also faulted the tribunal for withholding its decision on the other application which challenged the “independence and impartiality of the chairman of the tribunal as his conduct in the proceedings showed bias and prejudiced against the appellant”.

Onnoghen argued that Section 396(2) of ACJA could only be the basis for adjourning rulings on such interlocutory applications till the conclusion of the trial if the applications had to do with the validity of the charges filed against the defendant.

He stated that his applications “raised a threshold issue of jurisdiction which should not wait until the conclusion of trial” adding that it “did not relate to the validity of the charges”.

“The decision (deferment of rulings) is a violation of the right of the appellant to a fair hearing,” the notice of appeal also stated.

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Ononghen appeals CCT decision

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Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen has appealed Monday’s decision by the Code of Conduct Tribunal to delay ruling in his applications challenging its jurisdiction and its impartiality in the criminal case against him.

CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, in a ruling on March 11, ordered a day-to-day trial in the charge of non-declaration of assets against Onnoghen and said the ruling in the two applications by the defendants would be delivered at the time of judgment.

Onnoghen, in a three-ground notice of appeal filed on Tuesday, argued the CCT erred in law in its interpretation of Section 369(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) when it ruled that its decision in the applicant’s applications shall be given at the point of judgment.

The suspended CJN argued that it was wrong for the CCT to refuse to deliver ruling after hearing the application challenging “constitutional jurisdiction” of the tribunal to hear and determine the charges filed against him.

He also faulted the tribunal for withholding its decision on the other application which challenged the “independence and impartiality of the chairman of the tribunal as his conduct in the proceedings showed bias and prejudiced against the appellant”.

Onnoghen argued that Section 396(2) of ACJA could only be the basis for adjourning rulings on such interlocutory applications till the conclusion of the trial if the applications had to do with the validity of the charges filed against the defendant.

He stated that his applications “raised a threshold issue of jurisdiction which should not wait until the conclusion of trial” adding that it “did not relate to the validity of the charges”.

“The decision (deferment of rulings) is a violation of the right of the appellant to a fair hearing,” the notice of appeal also stated.

Onnoghen noted that the same CCT, had in earlier proceedings in the case of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, delivered ruling in a similar application.

He added that the CCT erred in the interpretation of Section 396(3) of the ACJA when objections of the appellant to impartiality and independence of the tribunal, particularly the Chairman, whose conduct in the proceedings gave an indication of bias and absence of independence in the determination of the right of the appellant.

Onnoghen argued that the application he filed “is not one of the interlocutory applications covered by Section 396(4) of the ACJA. The decision is a violation of the right of the appellant to the fair hearing.”

He urged the Court of Appeal to allow his appeal and “set aside the order of the tribunal made on March 11, 2019”.

Onnoghen also urged the Court of Appeal to proceed to invoke the provisions of Section 16 of the Court of Appeal Act, which he noted, empowers the court to hear and determine the applications in respect of which the CCT declined to rule.

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Supreme Court o decide Ononghen’s fate

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The Supreme Court will on May 17 decide on the legality or otherwise of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.

 

The apex court fixed the date for Judgment in Abuja yesterday, after listening to the submissions of counsel in the suit filed by the Cross River State Government.

The suit dated January 22, 2019, and marked SC/45/2019, has the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) as defendants.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on January 25, suspended Onnoghen as CJN and Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), pending the determination of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

However, the Cross River State Government in challenging the action of the president approached the Supreme Court to set aside the suspension of Onnoghen.

At yesterday’s proceedings, counsel to the Cross River State government, Lucius Nwosu (SAN), contended that Onnoghen’s suspension or removal from office by President Muhammadu Buhari, based on an ex-parte order by a lay magistrate – the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal – violates the Constitution, particularly Section 292(1).

On his part, the Solicitor-General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, who represented the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation, submitted that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to approach the Supreme Court on the issue, on the grounds that Onnoghen’s suspension was personal to him and cannot be interpreted to amount to a dispute between the Federal Government and the Cross River State Government.

In the notice of preliminary objections filed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the federal government further challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter on the grounds that “there is no dispute between the defendants in this suit and the plaintiff as envisaged under section 232(1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended).

“The reliefs and claims made herein by the plaintiff are not for the benefit of Cross River State but personal to Hon Justice Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel,” he said.

In addition, Akpata informed the apex court that the subject matter of the suit is already before the Court of Appeal, which has reserved judgment.

According to him, the action of the Cross River State amounted to “forum shopping and an abuse of court process.”

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