First batch of subsidy trial suspects deny collecting money from government.
The Federal Government lied about paying Petroleum Support Fund, PSF, amounting to N976.6 million to Fargo Petroleum and Gas limited, the owners of the company have said.
Oluwaseun Ogunbambo and Habila Theck, owners of Fargo, on Friday, said they were not partakers in the monumental fuel subsidy fraud.
The two men are among 17 suspected petrol subsidy fraudsters being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission.
The oil marketers told Adeniyi Onigbanjo, the presiding judge at the Lagos High Court in Ikeja, that they never received about N1 billion alleged to have been paid to their company for fuel that was never imported.
“From the information I have, our client has not collected this money. It’s still with the Federal Government,” Adebayo Adenipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and counsel to the defendants, said.
“I’m sure you know that he (the prosecution’s witness) didn’t confirm that our client has got that money, and we are waiting for someone who will say he has collected that money,” Mr. Adenipekun added.
Mr. Onigbanjo adjourned the trial to December 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
At the subsidy trial, the first in an array of cases and personalities to be tried in the last quarter of this year, Wole Adamalekun of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, took to the dock.
Led in evidence by Rotimi Jacobs, counsel to the prosecution, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Adamalekun explained the processes of importation of fuel from the registration at his agency to when the product berths at the ports.
About 13 agencies are involved in the entire process, according to Mr. Adamalekun.
He also said that each marketer is expected to submit about 45 documents for verification by the agency before getting the nod.
“The first step to be taken is for the marketer to apply to the PPPRA for permission to import,” Mr. Adamalekun, General Manager, Operations, at the agency, said.
“When this permit is granted, he goes to DPR (Department of Petroleum Resources) to obtain license for import. Then he goes to procure the product from the international market, from international suppliers, and then ships the product to Nigeria,” he added.
The general manager also told the court that officials of the agency are present when the products are shipped in, stored at a depot, and evacuated from the depot to various filling stations.
“The major document in computing subsidy is the shore tank certificate which is validated by PPPRA, DPR, Navy, auditors from the Federal Ministry of Finance, NPA (Nigeria Ports Authority), and independent inspectors appointed by us,” Mr. Adamalekun said.
“The auditors are also at the reception facility, they are to check what we have done. They are the final deciders on payment,” he said.
Mr. Adamalekun also said that he is unaware if the defendants have received the said subsidy payment.
‘Bailed’ but in prison
After the witness’ testimony, the defence counsel brought the attention of the judge to the fact that one of his clients, Mr. Theck, is still in custody despite being granted bail two months ago.
When the suspects were arraigned in July, the judge, who insisted Mr. Ogunbambo be in custody pending trial, granted bail to Mr. Theck and asked him to provide a chief executive of a blue chip company as surety among other conditions.
While Mr. Ogunbambo – denied bail for his penchant to assume multiple identities as well as jump bail while under investigation – proceeded to another judge to secure his bail, Mr. Theck had remained at Ikoyi Prisons.
“That is his right,” Mr. Adenipekun said of Mr. Ogunbambo’s release.
“When you are refused bail by a judge, you have the right to go to any other court and also apply.
“And circumstances can change. Our client spent some weeks in prison. When we presented the new facts and other circumstances to the new judge and she found that he was entitled to bail; it is nothing unusual,” he said.
Mr. Adenipekun told the judge, during Friday’s trial, that every other condition for Mr. Theck’s bail had been met except producing the company executive.
The presiding judge asked that a bail application to that effect be filed.
The application will be heard on September 28.