Justice Hakeem Oshodi of an Ikeja Division of the Lagos State High Court has struck out a case against Eternal Plc and its managing director, Mahmud Tukur.
Mr Tukur and Abdullahi Alao, the son of late billionaire businessman, were accused of conspiracy, altering of documents, and obtaining N3.1 billion under false pretence.
Arraigned alongside the duo were Alex Ochonogor, Eternal Plc, Axenergy Limited, and Star Inspection Services Nigeria Limited. Mr Alao, described as a principal witness in the case, is believed to be at large. He is also associated with the fifth and sixth defendants.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on February 14, the prosecution lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs, told the court that he had reviewed the case and that there was no need to continue with it, since the third, fifth and sixth defendants, who were primary actors in the fraud,were not available.
“My lord, I reviewed the facts of the case and I know it will be extremely impossible for me to lead evidence in this matter without the third defendant and the role he played in respect of the fifth and sixth defendants.
“So my lord, as a man of conscience, my conscience will not allow me to continue against the rest leaving the principal actor. I’m forced to ask my lord to adjourn sine die(indefinitely) or urge my lord to strike out the matter.
“So that you enable us as soon as the third, fifth and sixth defendants resurfaces to face this trial because they are the primary actors my lord and I have spoken with my colleagues also. So my lord, it will be futile for me to proceed and I have spoken with them so that they will agree with me to strike out.
Lawyers for the defendants did not oppose the application by the prosecution to strike out the case, but the counsel for the first and second defendants, Tayo Oyetibo and Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, urged the court to release the international passports of the first and second defendants.
The two lawyers also urged the court to release all title documents deposited with the court for the approval of the first and second defendants’ bail.
In a short ruling, Justice Oshodi said “After hearing Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, of Prosecution Counsel inform the Court that he reviewed the facts of this case and it will be extremely impossible to further lead evidence in this matter without the third defendant and the role he played in fifth and sixth defendants. He urged the Court to strike out the matter.
“Tayo Oyetibo SAN and Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, SAN of Counsel of first and second defendants not opposing the application but urged the court to release the International Passport of the first and second defendants and all title documents forwarded for the approval of first and second defendants’ bail.
“And Aderemi Oguntoye, Esq. and Brown Osarenkaoe, Esq. of Counsel for third, fourth and fifth defendants not opposing to the application for strike out.
“As urged by learned SAN representing the prosecution, this suit is hereby struck out. Furthermore, the Court hereby direct that the International Passports of the 1° Defendant, Mahmud Tukur and the second defendant, Ochonogor Alex, shall be released to them immediately together with all the documents for these set of defendants, that is, first and second defendants, submitted to the Court to secure their respective bail applications”
The defendants were first arraigned in July 2012 over a nine-count charge of fuel subsidy fraud amounting to N1.8 billion.
The EFCC accused them of receiving the funds from the federal government as petrol subsidy without actually importing any petrol.
The defendants strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Tukur, Alex and Mr Alao were the first, second and third defendants.
While Eternal Plc, Axenergy and Star Inspection Services Nigeria Limited, were fourth, fifth and sixth defendants respectively.
Eternal Plc, which is listed, has since informed the Nigerian Stock Exchange of the outcome of the case.
In a February 24 letter to the Exchange, the company said, “Eterna Plc is pleased to announce that the criminal case instituted in 2012 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against Eterna Plc, Mahmud Tukur and several other persons has been struck out.
“The Lagos State High Court presided over by Justice H. O Oshodi struck out the matter on the 14th day of February 2020, following an application by the Prosecution Counsel, that having reviewed the facts of the case, it will be extremely impossible to further lead evidence in the matter against the Company and its MD/CEO Mahmud Tukur.”