Alex Enumah in Abuja
A prosecution witness in the trial of the former Director of Legal Services in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Grace Taiga, wednesday told an Abuja High Court that the defendant claimed to have forwarded the draft of the contractual agreement between Nigeria and an Irish firm, Process and Industrial Development (P & ID) Limited to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice for necessary action.
The witness, Umaru Babangida, an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) made the revelation while giving evidence as the second was of the prosecution (PW2) in the matter.
Taiga is standing trial on an eight-count charge bordering on criminal breach of trust and gratification among others.
The EFCC in the charge, specifically accused Taiga of signing the said agreement without obtaining approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) as required by law.
Taiga however pleaded not guilty to the charges and was admitted to bail in the sum of N10million.
The said agreement entered in 2010 has resulted in a serious litigation between Nigeria and P&ID Limited.
A British Commercial Court in August this year held that the firm can seize assets belonging to Nigeria anyway in the world to recover the sum of $9.6billion judgment debt in its favour.
Nigeria has since appealed the UK ruling and had also obtained an order of court to freeze assets belonging to the Irish firm in Nigeria, after the firm was convicted by an Abuja Court for economic sabotage, money laundering and tax evasion amongst others.
At the commencement of trial yesterday before Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) sitting in Apo District of Abuja, the witness, who claimed to be the leader of the EFCC’s team investigating the circumstances surrounding the signing of the agreement said, Taiga made the claim during interview and also in her written statement at the headquarters of the commission in Abuja.
Being led in evidence by the prosecution’s lawyer, Abba Mohammed, the second prosecution witness said the defendant personally brought herself to the office of the EFCC even though a letter inviting her for interview was sent to the office of the AGF and Minister of Justice.
Babangida said that the commission decided to extend invitation to Taiga after it discovered her name in the list of members of the technical team that handled the project.
“We interviewed her when she reported and tried to know her schedule as Director, Legal, Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
“She confirmed that her schedule of duty include legal advice to the ministry, drafting of legal documents, drafting of agreement and forwarding the draft agreement to the office of the AGF for vetting and further directives”, he said.
“She confirmed from the interview and her written statement that the draft agreement was forwarded to the office of the AGF for vetting and further directive”, the witness added.
Babangida further told the court that then former Minister of Petroleum Resources, the late Rilwanu Lukman signed the agreement on behalf of Nigeria, while Taiga witnessed for the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
On the part of the firm, the witness said one Michael Quinn signed for P&ID Nigeria limited and P&ID British Virgin Island with one Mohammed as witness for P&ID Nigeria Limited and P&ID British Virgin Island.
He also said that their findings revealed that there was no cash backing for the project, adding that the Irish firm was not issued concession licence for the project.
In addition, he said all relevant regulatory agencies and government offices such as Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Bureau of Public Procurement, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation among others all confirmed that the documents were not brought before them for necessary consideration.
Earlier in his evidence the first prosecution witness, Remigius Ugwu, a bank staff, told the court that the sum of 500 Euros and $10,000 were paid into the naira and dollar accounts of the defendants at various times between 2014 and 2019.
According to him the sums were paid by East Wise Trading Limited and Industrial Consultant International in both Euro and dollars and were converted at the rate of N388.42.
However, under cross examination by counsel to the defendant, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), the witness admitted not knowing the purpose of the payment.
He also could not show to the court where the sum of 500 euros was contained in the documents tendered before the court.
The witness while admitting that the defendant is entitled to receive dollars payment from abroad, further admitted that the inflows into the accounts of Taiga in their bank were lawful transaction.
Earlier, Justice Adeniyi had declined to adjourn the trial on account of the ill-health of the defendant. Taiga was brought to court in an ambulance and supported by a staff nurse of the Abuja University Teaching Hospital where she has been on referral by the Nigerian Correctional Service since her remand in custody in September.
The judge also refused the plea by Olanipekun for time to be fully briefed by his client who has been hospitalised since her remand.
The matter has been adjourned till December 12, for continuation of trial.