Court dismisses Nigerian govt’s $55 million debt recovery suit against Agip Oil

Agip Head office in Lagos
Agip Head office in Lagos

A Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Wednesday dismissed a $55 million debt recovery suit filed by the Nigerian government against Agip Oil Company Ltd, citing insufficient evidence.

Mojisola Olatoregun, the judge, said the plaintiff failed to supply the requisite evidence to prove its case before the court.

The Nigerian government had sued the oil company, owned by Italian oil giant, Eni, in 2016 for allegedly under-declaring the volume of crude oil it shipped out of the country between January 2011 and December 2014.

The government is seeking $55 million as the shortfall in the amount of excess crude oil lifted out of Nigeria, onboard the vessel MT Cosmos.

Parties in the suit had closed their cases in November last year, and the court adjourned for judgment.

Delivering her judgment on Wednesday, Mrs Olatoregun asked whether the plaintiff had succeeded in proving its case to entitle it to a grant of the reliefs sought.

“In answer, the court held that it is trite and settled law, that he who asserts must prove,” the judge said.

“Although allegations were made, the plaintiff failed to establish same on a preponderance of evidence.

“The burden of proof starts with the plaintiff and keeps shifting until all the required evidence is placed before the court.

“Exhibit DA 10 shows that MT Cosmos was nominated to ship 949,096 barrels of crude oil and exhibit DC 10 from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources shows the barrel of crude oil as 949,096 barrels from MT Cosmos.

“The plaintiff cited the same bill of lading number, but I have no reason to suggest that the bill of lading covers the excess 500,000 barrels of crude oil.

“While I do not have any evidence to suggest that it is impossible for the defendant to carry undeclared crude oil from Nigeria, I have no evidence to show that MT Cosmos carried the excess 500,000 barrels of crude oil with same bill of lading,” she held.

The judge also held that the plaintiff failed to prove its case by supplying the requisite evidence, adding that the main purpose of final addresses is to assist the court.

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“It is trite law that whoever asserts, must prove that the facts exist; no amount of brilliant address can make up for a lack of evidence.

“The plaintiff failed to make out a case that 500,000 barrels of crude oil were offloaded in Pennsylvania; the case of the plaintiff fails on the lack of proof on the preponderance of evidence.

“At this stage, I do not find it necessary to proceed with the evaluation of the other reliefs.

” I, therefore, proceed to make an order dismissing this suit; it is hereby dismissed.”

Reacting to the judgment, Fabian Ajogwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the Nigerian government “shall be taking the case through the due process of the law.”

During the trial, the plaintiff called one witness and tendered three exhibits before the court, while the defendant also called one witness and tendered 12 exhibits.

The suit was one of several filed against oil multinationals seeking to recover almost $12 billion in missing crude oil revenue.

The Nigerian government had also sued Total E&P Nig. Plc, alleging that the oil company under-declared the volume of crude oil it shipped out of the country between January 2011 and December 2014.

The government accused the oil company of short-changing it to the tune of $245 million by allegedly shipping several barrels of crude oil out of Nigeria, without making due remittance to the government.

Similar suits are also pending against Chevron Nigeria Ltd, Chevron Petroleum Nigeria Ltd, Shell Western Supply & Trading Ltd among others.

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