SHELL Nigeria Exploration and Nigeria Agip Exploration have asked the federal high court, Abuja, to discharge the order of forfeiture of Oil Prospecting License, OPL, 245 which it granted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Justice John Tsoho on January 26, granted an order of interim forfeiture of OPL 245 to the federal government pending investigation and prosecution of suspects in the $1.1 billion Malabu Oil scam.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Tuesday, February 14, Johnson Ojogbane, prosecuting counsel, informed the court that he was unable to respond to the two applications filed by the applicants on the matter. Ojogbane blamed his inability was, “to circumstances beyond our control.” He applied for an adjournment to enable the prosecution to respond so that the two applications could be taken on its merit.
Olaniwun Ajayi, SAN, counsel to Shell, told the court that he had filed two applications in respect of the matter. Ajayi said the first application was seeking the discharge, dismissal or striking out of the order of forfeiture to the federal government which the court made pending the conclusion of the matter.
The second, he said, was for an order staying or suspending the effects of the interim order made by the court in favour of the EFCC directing that OPL 245 be managed by the Department of Petroleum Resources. Ajayi said that the execution of the action by the EFCC constituted a gross abuse of office and court processes and that the process of procuring the ex parte order was unconstitutional and unlawful.
Besides, he said that the respondents misrepresented and suppressed material facts in obtaining the order, and urged the court to discharge the order in the interest of justice. Ajayi reminded the court that the prosecution had said the matter was of urgent public interest and wondered why the prosecution had failed to respond to an application filed more than two weeks ago. “Under Section 19 (2)(b and c) of the EFCC Act, the court is enjoined to give accelerated hearing and the Federal High Court Practice Direction 2013 also stresses the need for accelerated hearing of criminal matters brought before the court,” Ajayi said. Nevertheless, the counsel urged the court to give a short adjournment because of the urgency of the matter and the public interest the respondents attached to it.
Babatunde Fapohunda, counsel to Agip, who also filed the same application, urged the court to set aside its earlier order in the interest of justice.
Tsho adjourned the matter until February 27 to hear the two pending applications.
The court had granted the order following an ex-parte motion filed by the EFCC through Ojogbane. The court ordered that the property be managed by the Department of Petroleum Resources on behalf of the federal government, pending the conclusion of investigation and prosecution of all those involved. The EFCC counsel in the motion said that the investigation bordered on alleged acts of conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering.
The EFCC had in December 2016, charged nine suspects, including Mohammed Adoke, a former attorney-general of the federation and minister of Justice, on the issue. Adoke was accused of illegally transferring more than 800 million dollars purportedly meant for the purchase of the OPL 245 to Etete, Malabu Oil.
— Feb 14, 2017 @ 16:30 GMT