A Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, has granted bail to the chairman of Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept; a former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Andrew Yakubu, and four others.
Mr. Omokore, an ally of former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and Mr. Yakubu were charged along with a co-owner of Atlantic Energy, Kola Aluko; Victor Briggs; Abiye Memnere; David Mbanefo; Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited.
Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako, who gave the ruling, ordered the defendants to provide bail bonds of N50 million each, with one surety in like sum.
The surety should have properties in Abuja and should depose to affidavit of means; while the defendants should submit their international passport or passports.
They are also to remain in the court premises until they meet their bail conditions.
Earlier the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had struck out the name of one of the defendants, Kola Aluko, who is said to be at large.
Mr. Aluko jointly owns Atlantic Energy with Mr. Omokore. The company was allegedly used for the diversion of N400 million in the guise of importing petroleum products in 2011.
The prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, had asked the judge to remove Mr. Aluko’s name from the charge sheet since he (Mr. Aluko) could not be reached and had not been served the notice of summons.
Mr. Jacobs had argued that the prosecution was not under compulsion to produce a defendant at large before arraigning other co-accused in the same matter.
But counsel to one of the defendants, Tayo Oyetibo, said the fact that one of the defendants had not been served with the court processes was a fundamental defect that would affect the entire proceeding.
“Section 266 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act states that there is no trial without arraignment, or service of charge,” Mr. Oyetibo said.
Mr. Oyetibo said the prosecution had forced an adjournment of the matter on June 20 to allow it to ensure the full participation of all parties involved in the case.
He said the inability of the prosecution to provide a proof of service for one of the defendants was a defect that should not be overlooked.
But Justice Murtala-Nyako ruled that the outcome of the trial would affect all those involved in the charge.
She however noted that a defendant at large could still be served with his notice of summons, and ruled that unless the prosecution employed other methods to serve the missing defendant, the charge could not be said to be ripe for reading to the other defendants.
In response to the ruling by Justice Murtala-Nyako, Mr. Jacobs asked that defendant Aluko be removed from the list of defendants.
He had earlier told the court that the charge was amended to include a nine-count charge, which was later read to the other defendants.
They pleaded not guilty to the charges and the trial was adjourned to October 19 and 20.
In 2011, during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Atlantic Energy, alongside other companies, was allegedly given multibillion dollar worth of public assets without due process.
As at the time, the company, which was barely a year old and had no history of producing a droplet of oil, was awarded controlling stakes in two lucrative oil blocks – OML 30 and 34 – for just over $50 million each.
The deal, which was signed by the immediate past minister of petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, gave Atlantic Energy Limited a controlling 55 percent stake in the oil block.
Interestingly, Shell, which owned the remaining 45 per cent stake, fetched $1.3 billion for a single field after an open and competitive bidding process.
Incorporated as Atlantic Drilling Energy Concept Limited on July 19, 2010, it signed a Strategic Alliance Agreement with the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) shortly afterwards.
The NPDC is the upstream production subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
Under the agreement, Atlantic took charge of four oil blocks- OML 26 FHN, OML 30 Shoreline, OML 34 Niger-Delta Oil and OML 42 Neconde. It was to provide funds, technical services, drill and sell crude oil.
The company was also accused of lifting crude oil, but remitting only a fraction of its worth to government.
In 2012, according to NNPC insiders, Atlantic Energy paid $168m into government account, but lifted about three million barrels – valued at over $350 million.
In 2013, it also lifted about two million barrels of crude valued at about $240million, but paid only $68million.
Similarly, in 2014, Atlantic Energy paid zero cash-call, but lifted about 500,000 barrels of crude oil, valued at $54 million.
Mr. Yakubu was the GMD of the NNPC between 2012 and 2014 when Atlantic Energy lifted oil without remitting what was due to government.