Court Orders Forfeiture of Malabu Oil Block to FG

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• Walter Watgbtsoma, Adaoha Ugo-Nnadi jailed 10 years for subsidy fraud

Tobi Soniyi and Alexander Enumah in Abuja and Akinwale Akintunde in Lagos

Without hearing from other parties involved in the sale of Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245 by Malabu Oil and Gas Limited to Shell and Agip in 2011, a Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the interim forfeiture of the oil block to the federal government, pending the investigation and prosecution of other suspects connected to the $1.1 billion oil deal.

Justice John Tsoho granted the order yesterday, following an ex parte application filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

While moving the application filed on January 11, EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Johnson Ojogbane, urged the court to grant the order pending the investigation and prosecution of some suspects linked to the deal.

Even though the commission had charged some persons in connection with the deal to court, Ojogbane said the interim forfeiture order would allow it to file charges against additional suspects.

He said the suspects were being investigated “in connection with acts of conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering”.

The additional suspects listed in the application were Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited, Shell Nigeria Exploration Limited, Malabu Oil and Gas Limited and other individuals.

The commission had on December 20, 2016, charged nine suspects, including the former Minister for Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN) with respect to the $1.1bn deal.

Other accused persons named in the charges filed by the EFCC before a Federal High Court in Abuja were a former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete, Aliyu Abubakar, Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, Rocky Top Resource Ltd, Imperial Union Ltd, Novel Properties & Dev. Co. Ltd, Group Construction Ltd, Megatech Engineering Ltd.

However, Etete, who founded Malabu Oil and Gas, queried the decision of the federal government not to prosecute the two oil multinationals – Anglo/Dutch Royal firm Shell and Italy’s ENI Nigerian subsidiary, Agip – that were parties to the transaction entailing the payment of $1.1 billion by the international oil companies (IOCs) into a federal government-designated escrow account in exchange for a stake in the prolific oil block held by Malabu.

Etete also denied any wrongdoing in the deal and likened the charges to the government prosecuting itself.

He contended that the oil block was properly awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in accordance with the provisions defined in the Petroleum Act, and subsequently the OPL was awarded by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited.

Like Etete, Adoke had vehemently denied any wrongdoing in the transaction.

Ontario Executives Get 10-year Jail Terms

In another development, after weeks of drama following their sentencing, Justice Lateef Okunnu of the Ikeja High Court in Lagos finally sentenced Walter Watgbtsoma and Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi, Chairman and Managing Director of Ontario Oil and Gas Limited, respectively, to a minimum of ten years in jail each for defrauding the federal government of N754 million in oil subsidy claims.

The court also ordered their company to refund the said N754 million to the federal government.

Their sentencing marked the first time executives of oil marketing companies were jailed for defrauding the government through bogus fuel subsidy claims.

They were charged alongside other companies and executives, following the fuel subsidy protests that rocked the country in 2012, leading to investigations by the federal government into the subsidy scams in the downstream oil and gas sector.

In her sentencing, Justice Okunnu said that the total sentence passed was 69 years for each of the defendants but would run concurrently.

Wagbatsoma, Ugo-Ngadi, Fakuade Babafemi Ebenezer and Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited were alleged to have fraudulently obtained the sum of N1,959,377,542.63 from the Petroleum Support Fund for the purported importation of 39.2 million litres of petrol.

The EFCC had arraigned the convicts on an eight-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining property by false pretence, forgery and altering of documents on August 1, 2013, alongside Mr. Babafemi Fakuade, an official of the Petroleum Products Price and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).

Justice Okunnu had in her judgment delivered on January 13, found Wagbatsama, Ugo-Ngadi and their company, Ontario Oil and Gas, guilty of the eight-count amended charge of fraud preferred against them by EFCC.

The judge, however, found Fakuade not guilty and acquitted him of the charges.

In her judgment, Justice Okunnu had ruled that the convicts defrauded the federal government of N754 million in oil subsidy transactions totalling N1.9 billion.

Besides the fuel subsidy trial, Wagbatsoma was recently arrested in Germany for alleged money laundering in a multi-million pound deal.

He is currently being detained in the UK where he is expected to face trial.

Justice Okunnu was forced to defer the sentencing of the convicts till yesterday due to Ugo-Ngadi who fainted in the dock on January 13, the day the judgment on her conviction was delivered.

At yesterday’s proceedings, while delivering the sentencing on Ontario Oil and Gas Limited, the judge said: “I hereby give an order of restitution to Ontario Oil and Gas Limited.

“The N754 million which was defrauded by the company should be returned to the federal government.”

After the sentence was read out, counsel to Ugo-Ngadi, Mr. Y.A Kadiri, made an attempt to complain to Justice Okunnu about the treatment of his client by the EFCC.

“For the record, the conduct of the prosecution has been unethical. The defendant has been in hospital, though her situation has improved slightly.

“But the prosecution mounted tremendous pressure on the hospital management to discharge her,” he said.

The judge, however, refused to consider the complaint of the defence.