The face-off between the management of Integrated Logistics Services Limited, INTELS, and the Nigerian Port Authority, NPA appears to have taken a twist for the worse, as the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, OGFZA, has threatened to revoke the company’s expatriate visas and audit its operations.
The OGFZA also accused INTELS of violating Nigerian laws in its operations.
However, INTELS hit back on Monday, describing claims by the agency as “speculations and unproven allegations” and its threats an “unbridled desire to perpetrate mischief and malice against INL.”
The OGFZA is responsible for licensing, regulating, supervising, managing, controlling and co-ordinating the activities of oil and gas free zones in the country.
INTELS was a concessionaire with the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, to provide management services as developer under the OGFZA law, including collection of revenues on behalf of government for goods and services shipped into the country through the zone.
The concession agreement also covered collection of revenues from all operators, including multinational oil and gas companies in the country doing business within the oil and gas free zone.
Recently INTELS fell out with the NPA for its alleged refusal to comply with government directive to remit all revenues collected on government’s behalf through the Treasury Single Account, TSA, at the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
Documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES at the weekend revealed that unremitted revenues to the federation account between January and September 2017 by the company was over N40 billion.
The INTELS co-owner, Gabrielle Volpi, has since apologised to the NPA, saying his firm was now ready to comply with the TSA directive.
The new accusations by OGFZA, however, reveal that the firm still faces a lot of hurdles.
THE OGFZA ACCUSATIONS
In two separate letters dated October 23 and 29, addressed to INTELS Nigeria Limited, Managing Director, Mike Epelle, OGFZA frowned at the alleged serial breaches of the Oil & Gas Export Free Zone Act 2010, accusing the company and its affiliates of operating without a valid license since it failed to renew its license despite repeated reminders since June, 2017.
The first letter signed by OGFZA Managing Director, Okon Umana, accused INTELS of disposal of assets, including equipment imported into the free zone under the zero duty regime of the OGFZA Act “without the consent of the Authority, in contravention of Section 12(6) of the Oil and Gas Export Free Zone Act 1996.”
Some of the assets allegedly disposed of by INTELS and its 16 affiliates, include over 3,000 project vehicles, trucks, cranes, forklifts and assortment of construction equipment imported into the country.
Mr. Umana explained that the compliance audit on the activities of INTELS and its affiliates was to enable the Nigeria Customs establish the value of all assets disposed off allegedly without compliance.
Other allegations against the company, Mr. Umana said, included the refusal of INTELS and affiliates to allow the agency inspect the records relating to the imported items as well as access to their warehouse and other premises in contravention of Section 15(1) of the OGFZA law of 1996.
While also accusing INTELS of refusal to submit returns to the agency, Mr. Umana said the company refused to honour its demand notice to settle statutory obligations of over $31.5 million more than eight months since it was issued.
Besides, the agency said, INTELS has refused to refund over $18.37 million it collected illegally as oil and gas cargo charges between 2006 and 2016 in violation of Section 10(4) of the OGFZA Act of 2010 and Section 11 of the 2003 regulation.
Mr. Umanah said as a result of these alleged serial violations, the agency would not only apply appropriate sanctions against INTELS, but would cease to renew its operational licenses, while the visas of all its expatriates issued under the Free Zone regime would be cancelled forthwith.
The exercise, the OGFZA boss, explained, would help determine if INTELS had remitted the appropriate revenues that should have accrued to the federal government on the disposed assets.
Besides, the agency reminded INTELS management of the pending renewal of its operating license, since its expiration in December 3, 2016.
In the second letter signed by the Secretary/Legal Adviser to the Board, A. W. Sule, the OGFZA rejected objections by INTELS to the demand notice for the land lease/sublease charge, describing it as made in bad faith and an after-thought, in view of its initial acceptance and alleged payment of $3 million by its managing director.
The agency said the collection of the oil and gas charge by INTELS without its approval was illegal and should be refunded.
In response to the allegations, INTELS spokesperson, Bolaji Akinola, said on Monday that contrary to OGFZA claims, the company was neither owing, nor in violation of the OGFZA Act.
“Such allegations are ‘false and malicious’ and injurious to the business interest as well as reputation of INL,” he said in a statement.
He said apart from exchange of correspondences on the issues, there have been meetings and discussions between both parties regarding various demand notices by OGFZA as well as other measures affecting INL’s status and operations in the free zone.
Mr. Akinola accused OGFZA management of actions deliberately aimed at undermining INL’s business and tarnish its reputation, including its refusal to release its operational license for 2017, despite that the company had paid in full all charges and renewal fees for the license.
He said the other fee was the new free zone tariffs on land charges imposed by the Free Zone (Tariffs & Other Charges) Order gazetted in 2015, but being implemented from 2017.
“INL has raised some issues concerning the land charges with the result that the claim by the OGFZA on INL for those charges are presently being disputed. In essence, INL is not indebted to OGFZA, because the company is not liable to pay the land charges imposed on it by OGFZA,” he noted.