Court Remands Saipem MD in Prison over Alleged $130m Fraud

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Blessing Ibunge

Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has remanded the Managing Director of Saipem Contracting, Mr. Walter Peviana and one Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe in the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre over an alleged conspiracy to defraud the Rivers State Government the sum of $130 million.

The money according to the charge sheet was an alleged advanced payment for the construction of the OCGT power plant in Port Harcourt.

The court, presided by Justice Okogbule Gbasam, also issued a bench warrant for the arrest of three staff of Saipem namely, Giandomenico Zingali, Vitto Testaguzza, and Davide Anelli, that are expatriates.

The matter was registered in suit number PHC/3106/CR/2021.

At the resumed hearing yesterday, Justice Gbasam ordered that the third defendant, Walter Peviana and the fourth defendant, Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe be remanded at the Port Harcourt Correctional Service until the next hearing date.

The prosecution in the matter was the Government of Rivers State, while the defendants were: Saipem SPA (1st defendant), Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited (2nd defendant), Mr. Walter Peviana (3rd defendant), Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe (4th defendant), Giandomenico Zingali (5th defendant), Vitto Testaguzza (6th defendant) and Davide Anelli (7th defendant).

The judge who issued the bench warrant against three of the defendants in the matter following their absents in court, urged that State Police Commissioner and other security agencies to arrest and produce the defendants in court to face their trial having been duly served notice by the Government of Rivers State.

The lead counsel to the Rivers State Government (Applicant), Godwin Obla, prayed the court that those absent be tried in absentia since they had been duly served court processes, citing section 195 of the Rivers State Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015.

Opposing the argument by Obla, the lead counsel to the first, second, third and sixth defendants, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, explained that though court processes had been served on his clients, the sixth defendant was absent in court on health grounds.

Reacting to both parties’ arguments on the absenteeism of defendants in court, Justice Gbasam noted that at the preliminary hearing stages, the court on December 14, 2021, had ordered that all parties should be in court since it is a criminal case.

Justice Gbasam, who adjoined the hearing till January 18, 2022, said, “this will enable the counsels to the defendants including Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, and K. Akinwole (for the 4th defendant) to study the charges, other affidavits and complementary documents properly.”

Speaking to journalists after the court session, Obla explained that some years ago, the Rivers State Government had a contract with Saipem SPA and Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd in respect of Turbines and their building in Afam 11 in Oyigbo local government area of Rivers State.

According to him, the Rivers State Government had paid Saipem a total of $130 million and N7 billion.

He explained that despite such payment, the work did not progress beyond about 40 per cent of the contract sum even when the total contract amount had been collected with the company still asking for additional $97 million to be able to complete the contract.

“So forensic analysis of entire contractual agreement as done and the amount spent so far revealed that there were criminal infractions in respect of this contract.

“It is in relation of the criminal infractions that charges have now been brought against the company and individuals working with the company who were complicit in all those activities,” he added.

Obla spoke further saying that, “trial has commenced after about two previous delays.”

“The defendants asked for an adjournment, the state was ready to proceed, the matter has now been adjourned to Tuesday next week and the Managing Director of the second defendant in Nigeria and the other accused person have been remanded in prison custody till Tuesday next week.

“They are Mr. Walter Peviana and one Nigerian employee with the company, Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe, the 3rd and 4th defendants respectively on the charge sheet.”