N1.9 bn alleged subsidy fraud: Suspect accuses EFCC of ‘ambush’

WALTER WAGBATSOMA 1
Walter Wagbatsoma with officials of the EFCC

A suspect in the ongoing trial of some oil marketers accused of fuel subsidy‎ fraud, Tuesday, accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of introducing extraneous documents into the matter.

Walter Wagbatsoma,‎ facing a N1.9 billion oil subsidy fraud for the purported importation of 39.2 million litres of petrol, said that the EFCC, the prosecution, tendered a document it obtained during the trial.

“The prosecution is springing surprises,” Mr. Wagbatsoma said through his lawyer, Edoka Onyeke.

“Normally, we should be availed with any document they intend to use in this matter. My client has been ambushed.”

The defendant was objecting to documents and drafts presented by the prosecution which were allegedly used to perpetrate the N1.9 billion fraud.

Mr. Wagbatsoma is facing trial alongside‎ Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi, Fakuade Ebenezer, and Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited before Justice Lateefa Okunnu of a Lagos State High Court, Ikeja.

The defendants were re-arraigned in February, 2013, on a nine count of forgery, conspiracy, and obtaining by false pretences.

On Tuesday, Rotimi Jacobs, the EFCC counsel, pointed out that the first defendant, Mr. Wagbatsoma, participated in the activities that led to the alleged fraud.

“The first defendant said he never participated in the operation of this company (Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited) in the alleged matter,” Mr. Jacobs, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said.

“He said he is only a nominal chairman. What we are trying to point out here is his involvement in the proceedings of the company which he had already testified to the court that he was involved in the transactions that led to the alleged fraud.”

The trial judge‎ overruled the first defendant’s objection, noting that he had specifically requested that the documents be shown to him.

“This, however, means that the issue of surprise does not take place,” said Mrs. Okunnu.

“Saying that the defendant has been ambushed does not hold any water.”

Mr. Wagbatsoma told the court that Summerset, a company listed to had transacted business with the defendants in the alleged subsidy fraud, is one among 27 companies he has interest.

Mr. Jacobs: “You told the court that you used your influence to procure an oil permit for Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited (the fourth defendant). What influence is this?”

Mr. Wagbatsoma: “I would not want to say connection. I pursued the permit by making contacts with relevant offices. My role was to make initial contact to get the permit.”

Mr. Wagbatsoma said that although he studied Accounting at the University of Lagos, he is neither a Chartered nor a practising Accountant.

“But I have worked in the banking industry. I worked with Zenith Bank and Trade Bank. I worked with Trade Bank and left as a consultant in 2001. I helped them set up their Energy Group subsidiary.”

On Mr. Wagbatsoma’s claims that his company had a tank farm “in 2008 or 2009” in Oghara, Delta State, prior to collecting an importation quota; the prosecution argued that the defendants did not have one as at 2011.

“I put it to you that Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited never had any tank farm, even the one mentioned in Oghara, Delta State, until 2010,” said Mr. Jacobs.

‎The trial continues on Wednesday.

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