An FCT High Court presided over by Justice Olasumbo O. Goodluck today, June 4, 2014 ruled that it has jurisdiction to entertain the N1.4bn oil subsidy case involving the trio Helen Aninye, Chizobam Ben-Okafor and their company, Pon-Specialized Services Limited.
The accused persons are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on an eighteen count charge bordering on conspiracy, obtaining by false pretense and forgery.
Aninye and Ben-Okafor allegedly conspired and fraudulently obtained the sum of one billion, four hundred and thirteen million, five hundred and seven thousand, nine hundred and fifty one naira, fifty kobo (N1, 413,507,951.50) from the Federal Government of Nigeria by falsely claiming that the sum represented subsidy accruing to Pon-Specialised Services Limited under the Petroleum Support Fund for the importation of 15,000 MT of Premium Motor Spirit.
One of the counts reads: "That you Helyn Aninye “F”, Chizobam Ben-Okafor “F” and Pon-Specialised Services Limited on or about the 3rd day of March, 2011 at Abuja within the Jurisdiction of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja with intent to defraud did obtained the sum of one billion, four hundred and thirteen million, five hundred and seven thousand, nine hundred and fifty one naira, fifty kobo only (N1,413,507,951.50) from the Federal Government of Nigeria by falsely claiming that the sum represented subsidy accruing to Pon-Specialised Services Limited under the Petroleum Support Fund for the importation of 15,000MT of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) which Pon-Specialised Services Limited claimed to have purchased from Vitol SA Bourgase Bulgaria and imported into Nigeria through the MT Fulmer (Mother Vessel), MT Cape Bradley (1st Daughter Vessel), MT Aidin (2nd Daughter Vessel) and MT Dani 1 (3rd Daughter Vessel) which pretence you knew to be false and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act No. 14 of 2006”.
The suspects had on January 29, 2014 through their counsel, Solomon Edoho who held brief for Nourisson Quaker, SAN, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to sit on the matter claiming that it was a matter of admiralty, and that the federal high court has exclusive jurisdiction on such matters. They prayed the court to quash the charges against them.
Counsel to EFCC, Steve Odiase however opposed the application on the ground that the goods were already off the ship. “It is not a matter of admiralty as the product is out of the vessel and the vessel is no longer in the sea”, Odiase stated.
Ruling on the application today, Justice Goodluck held that admiralty is not the fundamental issue in the charge preferred against the accused persons. “The central issue in the charge are offences of conspiracy, obtaining by false pretence, forgery and so on, admiralty is merely incidental to the criminal case before this court” she stated.
She maintained that, “the issues for consideration on the 18-counts are for this court to determine whether the applicants at the time accused, obtained the sum of one billion, four hundred and thirteen million, five hundred and seven thousand, nine hundred and fifty one naira and fifty kobo (N1, 413,507,951.50) belonging to the Federal Government. Also, whether the accused falsely represented to the Federal Government that they purchased PMS…, forged a document titled Bill of Lading 2011”.
He therefore ruled that the court has jurisdiction to hear the matter and struck out the application. The case has been adjourned to October 7, 8, and 9, 2014 for trial.