The Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered Zenith Bank to appear before it next Tuesday to explain why the bank should not forfeit the N150 million bond issued to secure the bail of three Russians standing trial before the court.

Oil Bunkering

The three men are among 14 accused foreigners standing trial before the court on a five-count charge of illegally dealing in petroleum products.

In June 2015, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned before the court the 14 foreigners, who comprise seven British citizens, three Russians, three Ukrainians and one Japanese, for their alleged involvement in massive oil bunkering in Nigeria’s territorial waters.

Also docked before the court on charges of conspiracy, unlawful dealing in petroleum products, and storing petroleum products without lawful authority were three vessels belonging to the foreigners. The vessels were identified as: MT Anukt Emerald, Monjasa DMCC, and Glencore Energy UK Limited.

The accused persons 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.

According to the EFCC they committed the offence on February 27, 2015. The foreign nationals are also alleged to have illegally stored 1,500 Metric Tons of Automated Gas Oil in MT Anuket Emerald's Cargo tanks marked 3s and 3P, and stored 3,035 Metric tons of Low Pour Fuel Oil (LPFO) in tanks marked 2P, 2S, SP, 4S and P.

The offences, according to the commission, are punishable under sections 4, 17, 19 (6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act and the Petroleum Act Laws of the Federation.

The suspects pleaded not guilty to the charge, and their counsel, Babajide Koku, urged the court to grant them bail on self- recognition.

Mr. Koku argued that the foreigners are presumed innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law, and as such deserve to be released on bail.

In his response, EFCC's lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, faulted the application that the accused should be granted bail on self-recognition, saying that such judicial favor was not applicable to the accused persons who are not citizens of Nigeria and also not residing in Nigeria.

Me. Oyedepo implored the court to attach stringent conditions, in the event bail was granted,  to the accused persons bail, so as to prevent the accused from absconding from the country.

In a bench ruling Justice Ibrahim Buba granted the accused persons 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 also ordered that the accused persons be remanded in prison custody pending when they would be able to fulfill the bail conditions.

Before the court could adjourn however, the suspects applied for leave to issue a bond of N750 million bank guarantee so as to avoid delay in producing sureties.

The application was granted by the court on the condition that the suspects deposit their passports and other travel documents with the EFCC.

Following the EFCC calling its witnesses and the accused persons stating their defence, the case was adjourned until today for the adoption of their written addresses to enable the court fix date for judgement.

When the case was heard, however, the court was bewildered to be told that 3 of the 14 suspects, Artur Pakhladzhian,Vasily Shkundich, and Kretov Andrey, had already jumped bail and absconded.

Consequently, the court ordered Zenith Bank Plc, which had secured the bail of the accused Russians with N50 million each  to appear on February 16 to show cause as to why the bank should not forfeit the N150 million used to secure the bail of the three Russians.

The presiding Judge Ibrahim Buba also revoked the bail of the 12 remaining suspects who were present in the court. Justice Buba then ordered that they be remanded in prison custody as the court was unsure they too would not abscond.

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