Trial of 14 foreigners charged with illegal bunkering begins today

The case filed before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against Dubai-headquartered Monjasa DMCC, Glencore Energy UK Limited, the vessel MT Anuket Emerald, and 14 foreign nationals alleged to be involved in illegal oil bunkering will resume for trial today.

The accused, who are facing on a 4-count charge bordering on conspiracy and illegal dealing in petroleum products, have been charged with conspiracy to commit an offence, as well as dealing with 1,738.087 metric tons of petroleum products without lawful authority or appropriate licence. Both offences are said to have happened on February 27, 2015.

The suspects are said to include three Russians, three Ukrainians, eight Filipinos, and one Georgian.

All of the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were arraigned on Thursday last week, and were granted a NGN50 million bail each by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos.

The suggestion by the defense counsel to release the accused persons to their respective embassies was refused by the court.

The defense counsel told the court that since the accused persons were not Nigerians, it would be difficult to find a surety but urged the court to accept bank guarantee of the total sum. The counsel further requested the court to remand the accused persons in EFCC custody pending the perfection of their bail condition.

Justice Buba granted the acceptance of a bank guarantee of NGN750 million as bail bond for the accused persons, but ordered the accused persons to be remanded in prison custody pending the perfection of their bail terms.

The case was adjourned to June 17, 18 and 19, 2015 for commencement of trial.

According to EFCC, the Nigerian Navy Ship Beecroft intercepted MT Anuket during a routine patrol within Nigerian waters on March 8, 2015 on suspicion of illegal oil dealing before handing over the vessel and it crew to the EFCC. Investigation by the EFCC revealed that the registered owner of the vessel is Combe Shipping Limited and the beneficial owner is Alliance Tankers Incorporated and that the ship flies Panama Flag with IMO number 9393644. Furthermore, it was discovered that Monjasa DMCC of Dubai UAE are the chatterers of the vessel.

Monjasa Group CEO Anders Østergaard said in a statement. That the charges of illegal bunkering brought against his company are unfounded, as the arrested MT Anuket Emerald was in international waters at the time the Nigerian navy boarded and inspected the vessel.

The tests confirmed that the cargo consisted of fuel and diesel oil, and that it was not Nigerian oil, Østergaard said.

“Unfortunately, the local authorities are now trying to charge us with operating in Nigerian territory without permission, even though the ship was beyond the 12 nautical mile radius, thus located in international waters (EEZ).

“But this case, along with the recent one in Angola, unfortunately illustrates clearly that several sovereign states are trying to claim rights to the EEZ zone. Right now this is just a matter of getting our ship and crew out sailing safely again. And of course I should mention that both ship owner and charter, as well as our respective P&I clubs, are on the same side in this event,” Østergaard said.

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