Oil Theft: Court Refuses to Bar Journalists from Covering FG’s Suit against Total

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Davidson Iriekpen
A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday dismissed an application to bar journalists from covering the case of alleged illegal oil export filed by the federal government against Total E&P Nigeria Plc.

The federal government sued Total E&P Nigeria Plc, alleging that the oil company under-declared the volume of crude oil it shipped out of the country between January 2011 and December 2014.

The federal government accused the oil company of short-changing it to the tune of $245 million, by allegedly shipping several barrels of crude oil out of Nigeria without making due remittances to it.
Total, through its lawyer, Mr. Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN), yesterday, brought an application, urging the court to bar journalists from covering and reporting the proceedings.

He had argued that the media reports made it appear as if his client had already been found guilty of the allegations levelled by the federal government.

Fagbohunlu said the media reports were pre-judging the case.
But Justice Mojisola Olatoregun dismissed the application, stating that she could not bar journalists from performing their duties in court.

She reminded the counsel that the court was a public place, which was also open to journalists.
She, however, warned journalists to always report accurately.
Similarly, Justice Olatoregun also granted an application by the federal government to amend its pleadings in the case.

She held: “The prayer of the plaintiff was to amend pleadings and same was disclosed as being urgent. The defendants failed to disclose any injury they will suffer if this application is granted.
“I find merit in granting this application to amend the process and the list of witnesses.

“This must be filed within 14 days from today. The defendants are at liberty to file consequential amendment if they choose to do so.” Justice Olatoregun adjourned further proceedings in the case till January 16, 2017.
The federal government, through its lawyer, Prof. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), had said it filed the suit following a forensic analysis.

The analysis was said to be linking decline in oil revenue to alleged non-declaration or under-declaration of volume of crude oil shipped out of the country by the Total and other oil companies.

The federal government’s statements of claims were backed by supporting affidavits deposed to by three United States of America-based experts. They include: Prof. David Olowokere, a US citizen and Lead Analyst at Loumos Group LLC, a technology and oil and gas auditing firm based in the US; Jerome Stanley, a counsel in the law firm of Henchy & Hackenberg.

According to the deponents, about 57 million barrels of crude oil were allegedly illegally exported by the defendant.
He said these were sold to buyers in the US between January 2011 and December 2014 without making due remittance to the federal government.

The deponents claimed that the said crude oil was sold to Tostsa Total oil Trading SA of San Felipe Plaza-Suite 2100,5847SAN FELIPE, 770557-HOUSTON, US at the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The federal government claimed to have uncovered the alleged illegality using high-technology information technology system, including satellite tracking systems, which were deployed by its consultants.

The federal government is therefore, seeking a court order, compelling Total E&P Nigeria Plc to pay it 245 million dollars, “being the total value of the missing revenues from the shortfall /under-declared crude oil shipments. The federal government wants 21 per cent interest per annum on the sum till final liquidation.

Again, it is also seeking general damages in the sum of 245 million dollars from Total E&P Nigeria Plc.
The court had on Sept. 30, dismissed a preliminary objection filed by Total, urging the court to dismiss the Federal Government’s suit for failing to disclose a reasonable cause of action.
Similar suits had been filed by the federal government against Chevron Nigeria Agip Oil Company Ltd, Shell Western Supply & Trading Ltd and others.