Abebe Asks Statoil to Return $4bn to Nigeria

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Davidson Iriekpen

The ongoing suit between a Norwegian oil firm, Statoil Nigeria Limited, and a businessman, Dr. John Abebe and his company, Inducon Nigeria Limited, which has been in the Supreme Court has taken a new twist with the businessman accusing Statoil of transferring over $4billion of its income from the sale of crude oil out of Nigeria against the orders of the courts.

Abebe and his company in the affidavit and application filed at the court through its lawyer, Uche Nwokedi (SAN), are asking that the orders of the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal that are still subsisting be enforced and that Statoil be made to return the $4billion to Nigeria.

They also urged the court to restrain the Norwegian oil firm from further repatriating all revenues accruing to it from the Agbami oil field and all other interests in Nigeria to any foreign account through any commercial bank in the country pending the hearing and determination of the substantive appeal.

By an interlocutory order dated April 26, 2010, a Federal High Court in Lagos had restrained Statoil from repatriating to any foreign account, its monies, revenues and earnings derived from its interest in the Oil Mining Licences (OMLs) 127,128,129, Oil Prospecting Licences (OPLs) 315, 242 and any other offshore oilfield in Nigeria.
The order was reiterated by the court in its final judgment delivered on December 6, 2010 which was upheld by the Court of Appeal in a unanimous judgment delivered on June 3, 2012, dismissing Statoil’s appeal.

Being dissatisfied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Statoil had appealed to the Supreme Court to set aside the judgment of the lower court including the order restraining it from moving proceeds of sale of crude oil to foreign countries.

However, Inducon Nigeria Limited and its owner, Abebe, are alleging that since the orders were made, the Norwegian oil firm has completely disregarded them, instead contrived an artifice whereby funds are immediately transferred out of Nigeria to foreign accounts.

They alleged that till date, Statoil has repatriated over $4billion which accrued to it from the said oilfields into foreign account with the assistance of a Nigerian bank in disobedience of the court orders.

The documents filed at the Supreme Court by Inducon and obtained by THISDAY showed that while Citi Bank, Statoil’s original bankers, refused to facilitate the movement of funds for the Norwegian oil firm, a Nigerian bank since 2012 has been moving funds abroad on behalf of the oil firm.

The documents showed that in March 2012 alone, the sum of $1.15 billion was transferred to J.P. Morhan Chase Bank in London on behalf of Statoil by the indigenous bank. The documents added that in 2012, the total amount lodged in the account and transferred out of Nigeria was $1.869billion, and between 2013 and December 2015, another $2.569billion was lodged from oil sales and transferred to J.P. Morgan Chase Bank.

They stated that unless the apex court restrain Statoil, it will continue to repatriate funds from the oilfields with a view to rendering the final judgment of the court nugatory in the event that the court enters judgment in their favour.

The substantive started when Abebe filed an action against Statoil at the Federal High Court in Lagos, contending that in April 1990, he was informed by British Petroleum (BP) that it was interested in pursuing opportunities in the Nigerian oil industry together with its partner Statoil of Stavanger, Norway with whom it had entered into an Alliance agreement.

According to him, the alliance, as it was represented to him, would present the first ever opportunity for Statoil, then an indigenous Norwegian company, to operate outside its home base, Norway and to venture into West Africa, amongst others.

In his statement of claim, argued through his lawyer, Nwokedi, he stated that at all material times, it was the representation of the alliance to him that BP and Statoil would be equal partners on a 50:50 basis in the alliance and that although the alliance would not be set up as a separate legal personality, the two companies would operate as one.

The businessman added that he was also instrumental to ensuring that the production sharing contracts for the blocks were signed with NNPC and all these were achieved due to his extensive contacts in government and the oil and gas sector.

In his judgment delivered in December 2010, Justice Charles Archibong ordered the oil firm to pay Abebe and his company, 1.5per cent net profit interest accruable to it from the three oil blocks allocated to them for bringing the firm to Nigeria to explore oil resources.

The judge held that there was indeed an agreement between him, BP and Statoil contrary to the claim of the oil firm, which must be honoured.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, Statoil headed to the Court of Appeal which later dismissed the appeal and upheld the judgment of the Federal High Court.