Two oil marketers, Yusuf Kwande and Osahon Asemota, where on Monday arraigned in an Ikeja Special Offences Court for allegedly stealing 6.4 million metrics tonnes of Automated Gas Oil (AGO) worth $8.4 million.
The accused were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside an international oil and gas company – Trafigura Beheer BV, Trafigura PTE Ltd and their Nigerian associates- Mettle Energy and Gas, Renbrandt Ltd. and Jil Engineering and Oil Services Limited.
The defendants, however, pleaded not guilty to the three-count charge of conspiracy, stealing and receiving stolen property proffered against them by the EFCC.
The anti-graft agency accused the defendants of fraudulently converting the AGO at the office of Trafigura Beheer BV located at 20A Sinaro Daranijo Street, off Ligali Ayorinde Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The lead prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria said the defendants committed the offences of stealing from October 22, 2008 to December 15, 2008.
He said the stolen AGO, worth $8.4 million, was the property of Nadabo Energy Limited and was kept in the legal custody of the now-defunct Spring Bank on Victoria Island.
Jacobs noted that the offences contravened Sections 383(1), 427 and 516 of the Criminal Code Law of 2004.
Following the defendant’s not guilty plea, counsel to the defendants sought to move their bail applications. But Jacobs informed the court that three of the prosecution witnesses were present in court. He requested that the trial begin immediately.
Emefun Etudo, the first prosecution witness and a former lawyer to Asemota and his companies, explained to the court how the defendants allegedly connived to defraud Nadabo.
He said, “Nadabo Energy is a contractor to Mobil and it was given a purchase order to supply 10,000 metrics tonnes of AGO to Mobil in 2008. Nadabo was given about $15 million by Spring Bank via a letter of offer dated Feb. 29, 2008, to effect this transaction.
“At that time, Nadabo had license to import only 4,000 metrics tonnes and could not import this transaction with the license. So Nadabo called the sixth defendant (Asemota), a veteran in the industry, to assist him because he has a tank farm at Apapa as well as a license.
“They entered into an agreement dated March 31, 2008, and part of the agreement stated that the supply shall be made on behalf of Nadabo and all finances for the execution of the agreement shall be transferred by Nadabo to the agent.
“Nadabo transferred the money in obedience to the agreement he had with the seventh defendant (Jil engineering and oil service limited). The transfer was made both in naira and dollars.”
Etudo said that the defendants never had an agreement to tamper with the complainant’s cargo and that the complainant always followed the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the parties to the agreement.
He further revealed to the court how the defendants defrauded Nadabo Energy, leading to the collapse of the now defunct Spring Bank.
“There was a twist after money was transferred to Trafigura abroad. Mettle Energy and Gas, Renbrandt Limited and Osahon Asemota informed Nadabo that Mobil rejected the supply, they further told Nadabo that Mobil accepted 3,000 out of the 10,000 metrics tonnes.
“The bank and Nadabo believed this and that was what we were made to believe until a case came up at Justice Ogunsanya’s court and it was revealed that the supply was not rejected by Mobil but was stolen by the defendants and sold to who they want and shared the money.
“Out of this disaster, the bank (Spring Bank) went down. EFCC was our first place of action and Trafigura was invited in a petition but the person that responded was Yusuf Kwande and he made statement to the EFCC.
“The account officer of Asemota and Jil Engineering and Oil Service Ltd at Spring Bank was also invited and he made statement,” he said.
The lawyer said that Mobil never rejected 7,000 metric tonnes of AGO as alleged by the defendants.
Etudo noted that following the revelation, he personally investigated the claims of the defendants and unravelled more details about the alleged fraud.
He said, “I investigated all the vessels that took part in the operation in 2008, the first and most important vessel is the one that took cargo from Cotonou to Eket.
“I discovered that the capacity of the vessel is 7,000 metric tonnes. I investigated another vessel owned by the sixth defendant and I discovered that the vessel is a slug vessel which is not supposed to be used to carry cargo.
“I saw that the two cargos never went to Mobil depot in Eket. Asemota intercepted the vessel and collected 3,000 metrics tonnes from the vessel.”
Following the testimony of the witness, Kwande’s defence counsel, Taiwo Osipitan, a professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, urged the court to grant him bail in most liberal terms.
Obliging his request, Justice Mojisola Dada admitted the defendants to bail in the sum of N2 million with two substantial sureties in like sum.
She ordered that one of the sureties must be a landed property owner who must submit their title documents to the court adding that the defendant should deposit his international passport to the prosecution (EFCC).
Justice Dada also released Kwande into the custody of Mr Osipitan, his counsel, pending the perfection of his bail conditions.
She, however, rejected the bail application of Osahon Asemota on the ground that the defendant had on previous occasions failed to submit himself to the court willingly for arraignment.
The judge ordered that Asemota be remanded in prison and adjourned the case until December 10,11 and 13 for continuation of trial.