By Tunde Opeseitan, Lagos
Fourteen nationals of Russia, Ukraine, Japan and United Kingdom were on Wednesday arraigned before a Federal High Court in Lagos by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over their alleged involvement in massive oil theft on Nigerian territorial waters.
The accused persons were alleged to have illegally dealt in several thousands of metric tons of petroleum product, automated gas oil and low pour fuel oil.
The accused are Artur Pakhladzhian, Sergo Abbgarian, Vasily Shkundich, Vitaliy Bilours, Hlarion Teofilo Regipor, Laguta Oleksiy, Cadavis Gerarado, Kretov Andry, Badurian Benjamin, Chepikov Olksan, Naranjo Allian Antero, Patro Christian, Alcayde Joel and Caratiquit Michael Beyan.
They were arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba alongside their companies.
According to the charges, the foreigners were said to have dealt in petroleum product without lawful authority or appropriate licence contrary to Section 19(6) of the Miscellaneous Offence Act, Cap M17, Laws of the Federal of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under Section 1(17) os the same Act.
EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo told the court that the accused illegally dealt with 1,738.087 metric tons of petroleum product; 1,500 metric tons of automated gas oil aboard MT ANUKRET EMERALD’S CARGO TANK and 3,035 metric tons of Low Pour Fuel Oil (LPFO) aboard the same cargo on March 27, 2015.
After the charges were read to them, the accused persons pleaded not guilty, while their lawyer, Babajide Koku (SAN) moved an oral application urging the court to grant them bail on the ground of self recognition.
Koku had further urged the court to grant bail to the accused on liberal term.
The lawyer argued that the foreigners were presumed innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law, and as such, they deserved to be released on bail.
In response, EFCC’s lawyer (Oyedepo) faulted the application that the accused should be granted bail on self recognition.
Oyedepo contended that such application was not applicable to the accused who are not citizens of Nigeria and also not residing in Nigeria.
However, Oyedepo pleaded with the court to attach stringent conditions in the event that the court was minded to grant the accused bail, so as to prevent the accused from absconding from the country.
Justice Buba, in his ruling, admitted the accused to bail in the sum of N50 million each with one surety in like sum.
The surety, according to the judge, must be a resident of Lagos.
Justice Buba ordered that the accused should be remanded in prison pending compliance with the bail conditions.
However, the accused informed the court that they were ready to issue bond of N750 million bank guarantee in order to avoid delay of surety, a request which was granted by the court subject to the deposit of their passports with EFCC and all travelling documents.
The case was thereafter adjourned to June 17,18 and 19, 2015 for trial.
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