The federal government has urged Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court to dismiss the no-case application filed by Petro Union and three of its directors alongside a consultant who are currently standing trial for alleged £2.6 billion fraud.
The federal government’s lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) made the plea while adopting his written address in opposition to the application by the company and its Petro Union directors.
All the defendants in the case are contending through their lawyers that none of the 13 witnesses called by the prosecution established any case of fraud against them.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting Petro Union Oil and Gas Limited, a consultant to the company and three of its directors before the court on a 13-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretence, attempt to steal and forgery.
The consultant is Abayomi Kukoyi (trading under the name and style of Gladstone Kukoyi & Associates), while the company’s directors on trial are Prince Kingsley Okpala, Prince Chidi Okpalaeze and Prince Emmanuel Okpalaeze. They all pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charge.
In his opposition to the application, Jacobs maintained that the prosecution had, through its witnesses, established a prima facie case of fraud against the defendants.
He argued that all investigations by Union Bank, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bankers’ Committee and the EFCC confirmed that the defendants were engaged in fraudulent activities.
The lawyers stated: “We have proved the ingredients of those offences beyond any reasonable doubt and each of the defendants should be invited to present their defence to the charge, if they have any.
“The defendants knew the truth but are insisting that the federal government should pay them £2.1 billion. It is our common inheritance that they want to take away. This is a clear case of fraud, and no person with heaven in mind should pursue this case or assist anyone to do so.
“The judgement against the federal government is now almost £30 billion with interest from 1994. We investigated the issuance of this cheque with our overseas partners, and it was revealed that the late Chief Okpala set up the company, Gazeaft Limited with share capital of £100 which opened a Barclays Bank account.
“He was the one who gave the various payment instructions to the third parties and not any foreign investor. He was also the one who signed the cheque leaf for £2.6 billion in the name of Petro Union as the forensic expert called by the federal government established before this court.
“The account upon which the cheque was drawn has been closed since 1989, whereas the cheque was issued in 1994 – five years after the account was closed and the company dissolved at the companies’ house in the United Kingdom,” Jacobs said.
He maintained that a prima facie case had been established against the defendants and, as such, the court should dismiss their no-case motion and order them to open their defence.
While moving the no-case-submission application on behalf of his clients, Chief J.K Gadzama (SAN) urged the court to dismiss the charge because the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against them.
Gadzama stated that the 13 witnesses produced by the EFCC were discredited under cross-examination and that they could not present any evidence or link the defendants to the offences.
He further argued that the third to fifth defendants were minors when the purported offences were allegedly committed and that they were not company directors at the time.
He maintained that they could not, therefore, be held liable for the alleged offences because the prosecution failed to demonstrate to the court the role they played in committing the crimes.
The senior lawyer also told the court that the failure of the prosecution to call officials of Barclays Bank was fatal to their case because they are the complainants in the matter.
Gadzama insisted that a criminal case must be proven beyond reasonable doubt and that it would amount to a miscarriage of justice if the court ordered the defendants to open their defence.
The counsel to the second defendant, Bashir Ramoni, also argued that the anti-graft agency failed to discharge its duty of proving its case against his client.
He contended that the second defendant was a chartered accountant who only rendered his professional services to the first defendant (Petro Union), and his actions cannot be criminalised.
Ramoni also stated that since the court cannot criminalise his professional services, it must hold that the second defendant has no case to answer, and he should be discharged and acquitted. Liman has fixed January 30, 2024 to deliver his ruling on the application.
Ministry of Agriculture Signs MoU with John Deere to Enhance Mechanised Farming
The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Senator Abubakar Kyari, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with John Deere, an Agricultural Machinery Company, in what the ministry said is in furtherance of the planned production of 2,000 tractors annually to enhance mechanised farming.
Speaking during the signing and exchange of documents in Abuja, the minister recalled that it was a follow-up to the meeting between Nigeria’s Vice President Ibrahim Shettima and top officials of John Deere at the recent World Food Prize Foundation held in lowa, USA.
Kyari stated the strategic partnership aims to establish a tractor plant in Nigeria, reflecting the federal government’s commitment to modernising agriculture and promoting self-sufficiency in food production.
He highlighted the multifaceted benefits of the initiative, including increased food production, employment opportunities and advancement in the nation’s food and nutrition.
The minister revealed that John Deere is a leading development manufacturing of agricultural machinery and is over 186 years and has the experience with a good brand name that has been in the forefront of agriculture.
Speaking further, he stated that when produced, government would not off-take the tractors but provide the enabling environment to make the tractors affordable at low-interest rate to Nigerian farmers and boost all-year round farming.
Earlier, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Dr. Ernest Umakhihe, said that the MoU was generic and would usher in more MoU’s and guidelines on implementing the agreement reached.
In his remarks, the Vice President of John Deere, Jason Braintley, noted that the agreement signified a shared vision among the parties involved to scale up proven practices in Nigeria.
He emphasised the importance of matching the right implements with the right tractor in specific areas, considering the diverse conditions across the country.