•President: Ruling will protect national assets from criminally-minded group
•Substantive application to set aside award now to be heard
By Omololu Ogunmade and Alex Enumah in Abuja
A court in the United Kingdom has delivered an unprecedented judgment, permitting Nigeria to proceed with its challenge of an arbitral award (now over $10 billion) made against it over three years ago, and also agreed that the country had established a prima facie case of fraud against the benefiting firm, Process and Industrial Development (P&ID).
The arbitration decision was over a failed Gas Supply and Processing Agreement (GSPA) between P&ID, an Irish firm, and the federal government of Nigeria.
In a swift reaction, President Muhammadu Buhari said the judgment had given Nigeria the lead to protect its national assets from a criminally-minded group, adding, “the gas contract was fraudulent and only an attempt to defraud Nigeria of its hard earned resources.”
Last year, a commercial court in London upheld the earlier arbitration award to P&ID, which had then accumulated to about $9.6 billion, threatening to seize the nation’s foreign assets, which Nigeria is currently challenging.
The country had in July filed an application for extension of time to enable it submit necessary evidence to prove that the said P&ID contract was a scam abinitio.
The British court in its ruling on Thursday allowed Nigeria to file necessary documents outside the normal time limits permitted by law, “due to the exceptional circumstances where Nigeria has uncovered evidence of a massive fraud in procuring the award.”
Justice Ross Cranston of the United Kingdom’s Royal Court of Justice ruled that Nigeria has established a prima facie case of fraud against P&ID in the country’s bid to upturn the arbitration penalty awarded to the shadowy company.
Sir Cranston, in his judgment, which also granted Nigeria’s application for an extension of time and relief from sanctions, noted the unethical and dishonest conduct of Mr. Supo Shasore, SAN, a former Attorney-General of Lagos State and former partner at Ajumogobia and Okeke in the fraudulent deal.
“… That Nigeria’s counsel in the arbitration, Mr. Shasore dishonestly failed to challenge Mr. Quinn’s perjured evidence or to seek disclosure from P&ID such that Tribunal had no choice but to find favour…
“However, what persuades me of a prima facie case of dishonesty in Mr. Shashore’s conduct of the arbitration, are his payments of $100,000 each to Mrs. Adelore and Mr. Oguine. Mrs. Adelore occupied Ms. Taiga’s position at the Ministry as the senior lawyer and Mr Oguine was her counterpart at the NNPC. Their salaries as public servants, according to the Attorney-General, Mr. Malami, were about $5,000 per annum,” Sir Cranston said in his judgment.
A statement yesterday by Dr. Umar Gwandu, the Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, said during the hearing, new evidence was presented to further support Nigeria’s challenge.
The statement said the Buhari administration, having inherited this dispute from the previous administration, only recently uncovered evidence that the GSPA was a sham commercial deal designed to fail from the start, and that its subsequent arbitral award was based on fraud and corruption.
It added that Nigeria “is relying on a number of ongoing investigations” across multiple jurisdictions, including the U.S, to build its case.
“The FRN will now proceed to a full trial of the issues, where the FRN’s substantive application to finally set aside the award will be heard, thereby recording a major success considering the fact that the Federal Government’s exceptional circumstances application to have its challenge taken well outside the normal time limits is upheld on account of uncovered evidence of massive fraud in procuring the award,” Gwandu said.
The media aide, who noted that the government “is pleased” with the outcome from the High Court hearing yesterday, said it was a major victory in the country’s ongoing fight against the vulture-fund-backed P&ID, to overturn the injustice of the multi-billion dollar arbitral award.
“In light of the new and substantive evidence presented regarding P&ID’s fraudulent and corrupt activities, the Court has granted our application for an extension of time to hear our challenge out of normal time limits.
“The Federal Government will now proceed to a full hearing of our fraud challenge in the coming months. Investigations into the GSPA are ongoing, and we are firmly committed to overturning the award – no matter how long it takes – to ensure that this money goes towards Nigeria’s future, not into the pockets of millionaires trying to exploit our country,” the statement added.
In its application for extension of time, Nigeria had disclosed that it has uncovered alleged bribes to government officials and their family members dating back to 2009.
Malami in his court filing on March 24, submitted that “There is good reason to believe that ministers at the highest level were involved in a corrupt scheme to steal money from Nigeria.”
Buhari: Judgment Has Given Nigeria Lead to Protect National Assets
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday in Abuja said the judgment by the United Kingdom court had given Nigeria the lead to protect its national assets from a criminally minded group.
The president hailed the judgment which granted reliefs sought by the country for extension of time to challenge the fine imposed on Nigeria over alleged breach of contract awarded to P&ID.
A statement by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said the president commended Nigeria’s legal team which achieved the feat.
It also said the court ruling had established a prima facie case that the gas contract was fraudulent and only an attempt to defraud Nigeria of its hard earned resources.
According to the statement, the president is satisfied by the UK court’s pronouncement that, “Nigeria has established a strong prima facie case that the Gas Supply and Processing (GSPA) was procured by bribes paid to insiders as part of a larger scheme to defraud Nigeria.”
The statement read in part: “The presidency welcomes the judgment by the UK Court granting Nigeria’s application for an extension of time and relief from sanctions in a $10 billion arbitration case with P&ID in Nigeria.
“In our view, the judgment is right, just and provides a strong prima facie case that the fraudulent gas deal with P&ID and the subsequent judgment debt of $10 billion against Nigeria was a clear attempt to cheat the country of billions of dollars by a company that had not invested one Naira in our country.”
The statement quoted a part of the judgment that “there is also a strong prima facie case that P&ID’s main witness in the arbitration, Mr. Quinn, gave a perjured evidence to the Tribunal, and that contrary to that evidence, P&ID was not in the position to perform the contract,” adding that the presidency was excited by the different processes that led to the judgment.
It further said the judgment had provided a relief for the federal government to protect its assets from individuals and groups it described as fraudulent.
According to the statement, the court’s submission has given Nigeria the lead to challenge the alleged fraud and overturn the award, and that Buhari remained committed to the fight against corruption.
The statement added: “The Presidency expresses delight with the processes that led to this outcome in the English Court, noting that it has given relief to the Nigerian government to further protect our national assets from criminally-minded organisations and individuals.
“The views of the UK court thus provide sufficient grounds for the Federal Government to go ahead and challenge the frauds perpetrated by the company and overturn the arbitration award.
“President Buhari therefore commends the team of lawyers who represented Nigeria in the matter with P&ID, and reassures all well-meaning Nigerians and the international community of his unwavering commitment to fight corruption in all its forms and manifestation.”