By Akinwale Akintunde
There was a drama in court yesterday, as Mrs. Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi, the Managing Director of Ontario Oil and Gas Limited, who had been on trial alongside the Chairman of the oil company, Mr. Walter Wagbatsoma fainted in the dock as the trial judge, Justice Lateefa Okunnu was about to sentence her after finding her guilty in a N1.9 billion oil subsidy fraud.
The situation forced the judge, who had taken a 30-minute break ahead of an expected sentencing to defer the sentencing of fuel subsidy convicts till Monday, January 16, 2017.
The convict was eventually carried out of the court by her lawyers and loved ones into a black jeep which sped out of the court premises.
Walter Wagbatsoma; Adaoha Ugo -Ngadi; Fakuade Babafemi Ebenezer and Ontario Oil& Gas Nigeria Limited are alleged to have fraudulently obtaining the sum of N1, 959, 377, 542, .63 (One Billion, Nine Hundred and Fifty Nine Million, Three Hundred and Seventy Seven Thousand, Five Hundred and Forty Two Naira, Sixty Three Kobo) from the Petroleum Support Fund for a purported importation of 39.2 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned the convicts before the court on August 1, 2013 alongside Mr. Babafemi Fakuade, an official of the Petroleum Products Price and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
Besides the fuel subsidy trial, Wagbatsoma was recently arrested in Germany over his involvement in alleged money laundering in a multi-million pound fraud.
His is currently being detained in the UK where he is expected to face trial.
Earlier in her judgment, before the drama, Justice Okunnu had found the 1st defendant, Wagbatsama, the 2nd defendant, Ugo-Ngadi and their company, Ontario Oil and Gas guilty of the eight-count amended charge of fraud leveled against them.
The judge however, found Fakuade, the 3rd defendant and an official of PPPRA not guilty and acquitted him on the charges.
The judge noted that the convicts defrauded the Federal Government of N754 million in oil subsidy transactions totaling N1.9 billion.
“The defendants defrauded the Federal Government of N340million in the third quarter of 2010 and N414 million in the fourth quarter of 2010.
“According to a forensic audit by Akintola Williams Delloitte, the defendants did not remit an excess of N754 million to the Federal Government,” she said.
According to Justice Okunnu, “the 1st defendant knowingly received the sum in excess of what the 4th defendant (Ontario Oil and Gas Limited) was entitled to. In my opinion, he contributed to the false pretence.
“The 2nd defendant is the MD of the company; she is the alter-ego of the 4th defendant and was aware of the going ons of the company.
“I find the allegations of obtaining by false pretences in relation to the first, second and fourth defendants to be true.
“They were all particeps criminis and uttered the document, they are therefore guilty of the offences in the amended charge,”Okunnu said.
While acquitting Fakuade, the judge said “the case before the 3rd defendant is that he helped in forging the Shore Quality Certificate, what I see before me is that he only signed the document while acting in his capacity as an PPRA official.
“It is not right in criminal cases to infer guilt without concrete evidence, there is no proof that he was aware that the documents were false.
“The prosecution has not been able to prove the case of forgery against the third defendant,” Justice Okunnu held.
Lawyer to Fakuade, Mr. B.A Ayeni, emotionally thanked Okunnu for acquitting his client.
In his allocutus, counsel to Ugo-Ngadi, Mr. E.A Onyeke told the judge to temper justice with mercy.
He said the 2nd defendant had health challenges, adding that she had in the course of the trial visited doctors abroad to take care of her health issues as the health care system in Nigeria is poor.
“As the MD, she is an employer of labour whose workers depend on her managerial abilities, her workers will suffer more than necessary especially in this period of recession,”Onyeke said.
“It is our humble plea that court grants her a custodial sentence starting from the day she was arraigned,” he said.
Responding, counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Jacob (SAN) requested for a stiff sentence.
“The minimum sentence of the offences which the convicts have been convicted is seven years.
“A custodial sentence will be sending a wrong signal to the public that the rich cannot go to prison and will be a hindrance to our fight against corruption.
“There is also no medical report regarding the alleged ill health of the defendant and the prison has medical facilities, if they can provide for the poor, they can provide for the rich,” Rotimi submitted.