Justice D. Z Senchi of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja, on Friday ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to serve charges of alleged abuse of office and money laundering in respect of the granting of the Oil Prospecting License, OPL 245, to Shell and ENI, brought against a former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete, former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, and others by substituted means.
Justice Senchi lifted the arrest warrant earlier issued against the defendants and ruled that it would be reissued after the prosecution had served them by substituted means due to their unavailability.
The commission had on April 17, 2019, obtained a warrant of arrest against Messrs Etete and Adoke, as well as four others over the OPL 245 scandal.
The EFCC filed criminal charges against the defendants but the commission said it had been difficult for it to serve them the charges or produce them in court because they were all on exile.
The situation forced the EFCC to apply for a warrant of arrest against them, which was granted by the court, empowering the Nigeria Police Force and Interpol to arrest them anywhere they are seen.
The EFCC said it had also been difficult to execute the warrant as the defendants remained in foreign locations, leaving the court to contend with endless adjournments on the matter.
With the development, the defendants through their counsel went to court, asking that the warrant be set aside based on the fact that the EFCC had so far not served them any charges.
Justice Senchi obliged them, saying the application was meritorious.
The trial judge stated that the EFCC ought to have served the charges to the defendants before applying for their arrest warrant that was granted.
The judge further ruled that the arrest warrant would be reissued against the defendants if they refused to show up in court after they had been served and upon a new application by the EFCC.
Following Justice Senchi’s pronouncements, the prosecuting counsel, Aliyu Yusuf, informed the court that the commission was going to apply to serve the defendants through their legal representatives.
He said, “As we cannot serve them because they are at large, we will write an application for leave of court, permitting us to serve the accused through their lawyers and if after adjournment they did not show up, we will still ask the court for a warrant of arrest.”
The government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo had revoked the OPL 245, which the late General Sani Abacha granted Mr Etete, who was his Petroleum Minister and reassigned it to Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company.
Etete’s Malabu Oil and Gas, however, reclaimed the oil block in 2006 through the court.
While Shell challenged the decision, a settlement and resolution agreement described as fraudulent by the EFCC came under President Goodluck Jonathan’s government with Shell and ENI buying the oil block from Malabu for $1.1bn.
The EFCC said its investigation into the deal revealed crimes that border on conspiracy, forgery of bank documents, bribery, corruption and money laundering to the tune of over $1.2bn.
Those the anti-graft agency consider culpable and have charged are among others, Messrs Etete and Adoke, Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep, Nigeria Agip Exploration and their officials.
The charges are pending before the FCT High Court and the Federal High Court.