£2.6bn fraud: Nigerian govt asks court to dismiss Petro Union Directors’ no case submission
Published By: Ayorinde Oluokun
By Akin Kuponiyi
The Nigerian government has urged a Federal high in Lagos to dismiss the no-case submission of Petro Union company, three of its directors and a Consultant who are currently standing trial for alleged £2.6 billion fraud.
Counsel to the Nigerian government, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), made the plea in his written address in opposition to the application by the Petro Union company and its Directors before Justice Mohammed Liman.
The defendants in the case are contending through their lawyers that none of the thirteen 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 company, a consultant to the company and three of its directors on a 13-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretences, attempting to steal and forgery.
The Consultant 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, 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, Bankers’ Committee and the EFCC confirmed that the defendants were engaged in clearly fraudulent activities.
The prosecution 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 any one of them 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 a 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.
- Nigerian govt opens e-passport offices in Italy, Spain, 3 others
- Sudan: Air Peace, NAF begin evacuation of stranded Nigerians
- Workers’ Day: Nigerian govt declares Monday public holiday
“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 asserted.
In conclusion, he maintained that a prima-face case had been established against the defendants and, as such, the court should dismiss their no-case submission and order them to open their defence.
While moving the No-Case-Submission application on behalf of the defendants, Chief Joe Kyari Gadzama (SAN) urged the court to dismiss the charge because the prosecution has failed to establish a prima-face case against them.
Gazama 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 that 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 defence lawyer also told the court that the failure of the prosecution to call officials of Barclays Bank is fatal to their case because they are the complainants in this 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 Abayomi Kukoyi was a Chartered Accountant who only rendered his professional services to the first defendant (Petro Union), and his actions cannot be criminalized.
Ramoni also stated that since the court cannot criminalize his professional services, it must hold that the second defendant has no case to answer, and he should be discharged and acquitted.
After listening to the submission of the two parties Justice Liman fixed January 30, 2024 to deliver his ruling on the application.