Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
A former Minister of Commerce and Tourism, Chief Bola Kuforiji-Olubi has faulted an asset freezing order purportedly issued against her and some members of her family by a London court following a dispute between a company where she was a Chairman – Pheonixtide Offshore Nigeria Limited and its estranged foreign partner, Tidewwater Marine International Incorporated.
The ex-minister said the order issued ex-parte on March 31 by Justice Eder of the Commercial Court, High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, was intended to coerce her and her family into submission and to stop her from further insisting that Tidewater must settle all outstanding indebtedness and tax liabilities to Nigerian government and tax authorities before the termination of both companies’ relationship.
Kuforiji-Olubi, who spoke through her lawyer, Ade Adedeji, said steps had been taken to stay the execution of the wrongly issued order and to have it set aside.
Tidewater still operates in the country through a local company, T1 Marine Services Limited.
Adedeji said it was strange that a court could grant such order without hearing form the other side.
He accused Tidewater of suppressing facts before the English court especially failing to tell the British judge that there were pending cases between parties in Nigerian courts and the fact that Tidewater had appealed an earlier order by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos asking Total to pay its $12.6m debt into an account opened by the court until the determination of pending cases between parties.
He said Tidewater did not only hide these facts from the court, it deceived the London court to believe that the Nigerian stakeholders in Pheonixtide, including Kuforiji-Olubi were blocking its access to the $12.6m yet to be paid by Total in view of the appeal it (Tidewater) filed.
Adedeji noted that even when all business done was with PhoenixTide in Nigeria, which is a bona fide limited liability company registered in the country, Tidewater is “surreptitiously demanding payment of the outstanding amount from Total from Kuforiji-Olubi and her family when they have never had access individually and severally to those funds.
He said: “All these moves are calculated by Tidewater and its associates to harass, intimidate and oppress the Kuforiji-Olubi family in defiance of any reaction of the Nigerian public or the Nigeria government.”
According to court documents filed by parties, Pheonixtide, upon its creation in 2004, entered into some agreements with Tidewater (an American company), which allows the foreign company to manage and control Pheonixtide’s operations, which include the provision of maritime services to international oil companies.
In 2010, the United State’s Department of Justice found Tidewater wanting for engaging in unethical practices in its operations in Nigeria and Azerbaijan.
The US’ Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) equally indicted the company for allegedly falsifying its accounts and returns.
It was made to pay penalties of about $14.8million to both agencies.
Tidewater, in 2011, was also made to pay a fine of $6 million to the Nigerian government for similar offences.
Not satisfied with the way Tidewater was running Pheonixtide, Nigerian stakeholders in Pheonixtide sought restructuring to allow them monitor its operations and demanded that Tidewater makes full disclosure and provide necessary information for the assessment of its tax liabilities.
Rather than “open up its operations,” as sought by the Nigerian shareholders, Tidewater in 2012 sought to exit the relationship, a move Kuforiji-Olubi and others objected to, insisting that Tidewater must first account for its running of Pheonixtide and settle all outstanding tax liabilities to relevant Nigerian agencies before the relationship could be terminated.
The disagreement led parties to approach the court, with Nigerian directors of Pheonixtide suing before the Federal High Court, while Tidewater headed for court in England.
But while parties were still in court, a client to Pheonixtide, Total, sought to settle part of its indebtedness for services rendered and approached the Federal High Court for direction.
In a judgment on November 8, 2013, Justice Ibrahim Buba ordered Total to pay what it owed “into an interest yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar pending when it is decided by a competent court, who is entitled to the funds between the respondents (Tidewater and Pheonixtide,” a decision Tidewater promptly appealed against.
Rather than await the outcome of its appeal in Nigeria, Tidewater applied to the London court to obtain an ex-parte order to freeze Kuforiji-Olubi and some of her family members’ assets.
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