Alleged Fraud: Court Grant N500m Bail to Saipem MD, Others

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Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt

Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has granted bail to the Managing Director of Saipem Contracting, Mr. Walter Peviana and Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe due to the tune of N500million.

Although on January 11, this year, the duo were remanded in the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre over an alleged conspiracy to defraud the Rivers State Government the sum of $130 million.

At the resumed hearing yesterday for bail consideration, the trial Judge, Justice Okogbule Gbasam, granted bail to the defendants in the matter filed by the Rivers State Government as registered in suit number PHC/3106/CR/2021.

The prosecution in the matter was the Government of Rivers State, while the defendants are: 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).

Earlier, the defendants counsel for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants, Odein Ajumogobia (a Senior Advocate of Nigeria) and counsel for the 4th defendant, relying on Section 194, 169, of the Administration of Criminal Justice and Section 35, 36 of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, pleaded for the bail of their clients.

The counsels told the court to grant the defendants bail considering the facility where they were detained, they explained that their clients could fall ill following the spread of virus pandemic.

Ajumogobia urged the court to grant his client, Mr Peviana, bail owing that he is the “managing director of one of the largest company in West Africa,(Saipem)” and would not jump bail.

The counsels pleaded that the court has the power to grant bail to the defendants.

But the applicant counsel, Godwin Obla, (a Senior Advocate of Nigeria), urged the court to dismiss the bail application for the defendants.

Obla, argued that the money involved in the alleged if converted to Nigeria currency, would amount to N32billion, which he said is about 6.7% of the total state budge for the year.

He argued that the 4th defendant counsel filed application of bail a day to the client arraignment in court, saying that the application did not comply with the law, hence, the court should dismiss such.

He further argued “It shows the seriousness of the crime the accused persons were charged and reason why the accused should not be granted bail”.

Ruling on the bail application, Justice Gbasam noted the error in filing a bail application before the defendant appears in Court.

The judge said “The titlement anticipation that bail should come before arraignment, arrested or remanded. The application made on January 10, 2022 was merely speculation and presumption. The 4th defendant should have filed his application after the case has been brought to court”.

He stated that the application was null and void.

Justice Gbasam who also expressed the discretion of the court in granting bail to the 2nd and 4th defendant, ordered that they should present two suretees each, and surety for the 2nd defendant must be a principle officer of the 1st defendant (Saipem) and must own a landed property in the state with Certificate of Ownership.

Also, as the bail condition, the judge said the defendants should deposit their International passports to the court and suretees must deposit original papers of their landed properties to the court.

However, the court adjourned the matter till February 2, 3 and 4, 2022 for accelerated hearing.

Speaking with THISDAY outside the courtroom, counsel for the applicant, Obla (SAN), explained “The matter came up today for plea as previously scheduled by the court and the plea of the defendants were all taken to the 15 Count charge and they moved their application for bail.

“We opposed the application for bail but also left a window for the judge to also exercise his discretion.

“He has now granted bail to the 3rd and 4th defendants in the sum of N500million each, two suretees to provide landed properties, the surety for the 3rd defendant must be a managerial level with the second defendant.

“The case has been adjourned till on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of February, 2022 for hearing on the day by day basis”, Obla added.

Also, speaking, counsel for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants, Ajumogobia (SAN), lauded the court for granting bail to his clients but noted the high conditions of the bail.

He said: “Bail is at the discretion of the court. We made an appeal that the court should issue conditions that are not too honoros. I think the court was gracious enough to issue conditions that is difficult but we will try and see how we can meet those conditions, I mean N500million is not a small amount of money for the two of the defendants.”