The alleged forgery charges filed by the federal government at the instance of an international oil company, Statoil Nigeria Limited, against the Chairman of Inducon Nigeria Limited, Dr. John Abebe, has taken a dramatic twist, with a former Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mrs. Eniola Fadayomi, confirming the authenticity of the document Abebe was alleged to have forged.
Abebe who is currently standing trial at the Ikeja Special Offences Court, was accused by Statoil to have on June 22, 2010 knowingly forged a letter dated November 30, 1995 and belonging to BP Exploration Nigeria Limited to that of his company, Inducon Nigeria Limited. The defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges.
When hearing in the trial resumed last Thursday, Fadayomi, the next defence witness called to testify for Abebe, testified that after she left office as Attorney General of Lagos State in 1989, she joined the prestigious law firm of Irving & Bonnar as principal partner, and during the period, she served as Chairperson of the then Afribank Nigeria Plc.
The witness gave evidence that during her time in Irving & Bonnar, she incorporated BP Exploration Nigeria Limited and Statoil Nigeria Limited as her international clients, even serving as one of the initial nominal directors of both companies along with her partner in the law firm.
Irving & Bonnar, she said, went on to act as company secretary and legal adviser to both companies.
Fadayomi stated that BP Exploration Nigeria Limited and Statoil Nigeria Limited were equal partners in a joint venture and were jointly referred to as “the Alliance” or “Mirror companies”.
She further confirmed that Abebe, as Chairman of Inducon Nigeria Limited, was introduced to her by one Forbes Maclean who was the Managing Director of BP Exploration Nigeria Limited at that time and that he (Abebe) had an active working relationship with the Alliance, helping them to secure three oil licences and he was initially made a director of both BP Exploration Nigeria Limited and Statoil Nigeria Limited before he was elevated to the position of Vice-Chairman of both companies.
She further stated that there were a number of agreements between Abebe and the Alliance that governed their business relationships.
According to her, the main agreement was the Net Profit Interest Agreement (NPIA), which was to secure a 1.5 per cent interest for Abebe and Inducon Nigeria Limited in the production of the Alliance.
She explained that there were also a number of amendments to the Net Profit Interest Agreement including one contained in the letter of 30th November 1995.
These amendments, she added, were in response to issues that arose with the NPIA.
According to her, the letter dated November 30, 1995, the subject matter of the charge of forgery against Abebe, was signed in the United Kingdom by Abebe and BP Exploration Nigeria Limited.
She revealed that the document was an amendment to the NPIA and the purpose of this amendment was to ensure that payments made to Abebe would not be taken into consideration in the calculation and payment of his 1.5 per cent Net Profit Interest which was to be paid upon post-production of crude oil from the oil fields in the oil licences he procured for the Alliance.
Fadayomi testified that Mr. Forbes Maclean showed her a copy of the alleged forged document upon his return from the United Kingdom, where the parties signed the document and there were no further disagreements on the issues that led to the amendment contained in the letter of November 30, 1995.
Upon being shown the copy the EFCC alleged was the original document that Abebe forged, Fadayomi denied knowledge of the document.
The EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, then sought for an adjournment to enable him continue the cross-examination of Fadayomi. The court then adjourned the matter to November 15, 18 and 19 of 2019 for continuation of trial.
Prior to the testimony by Fadayomi, the EFCC lawyer had continued the cross-examination of Mrs. Tosan Mabuyaku, an Assistant Director in the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) who was subpoenaed by the court to give evidence as a defence witness for Abebe.
Mabuyaku tendered some more company documents of BP Exploration Nigeria Limited as well as Statoil Nigeria Limited in the custody of the CAC under examination-in-chief led by Abebe’s lead counsel, Uche Nwokedi (SAN).
Under cross-examination by the EFCC lead counsel, Mabuyaku confirmed that from the CAC documents, Abebe had an interest in BP Exploration Nigeria Limited.
She further confirmed that the CAC had a statutory duty to apply to the court for deregistration of companies which failed to file their annual returns.
She also testified that a fee is required to be paid when CAC is certifying any document from its custody.
Under re-examination by Nwokedi, Mabuyaku testified that BP Exploration Nigeria Limited had not been deregistered by the Corporate Affairs Commission and that CAC does not charge fees for documents that are subpoenaed by the court as was the case here.
She was thereafter discharged as a witness.