A Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Monday sentenced 10 persons accused of fraudulently dealing in 200 metric tons of petroleum product to 12 years in prison.
The convicts are crew members of a vessel, MV Peace.
Mohammed Idris, the judge, ordered that the vessel and the recovered petroleum product be forfeited to the Nigerian government.
Those convicted include: James Abatan, the ship’s captain; Wasiu Owonikoko; Patrick Ameh; Johnson Ademola and Felix Otto.
The rest are Chigozie Oguike, Olu Salisu, Jomo Gadagbe, Kunle Oba Saheed, and Rasheed Adio.
They were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on July 27, 2017, on three counts of conspiracy and unlawful dealing in petroleum products.
During the trial, the EFCC presented three witnesses and tendered eight exhibits before the court.
While pronouncing his judgment on Monday, Mr Idris said the prosecution proved their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The prosecution has been able to lead overwhelming evidence against the defendants,” the judge said.
“The defendants have not been able to adduce evidence capable of puncturing the evidence put forward by the prosecution. I, therefore, find all the defendants guilty as charged.”
He sentenced the convicts to five years in prison on counts one and two; and two years on count three.
The jail terms are to run concurrently.
In his plea for leniency, Dada Awosika, the defence lawyer, described his clients as “victims of circumstances”.
“They only acted on the instruction of the vessel owner,” Mr Awosika said.
“They are mechanics, stewards, generator repairers. None of them gave evidence of having interest in the product.”
But, Rotimi Oyedepo, the prosecutor, urged the judge to reject the plea for leniency and impose the maximum penalty, so as not to encourage others to engage in the criminal act.
“I have listened to the plea of allocutus; there is no doubt that they (convicts) are first-time offenders,” said the judge.
“It should be noted that this crime is rampant and it is almost crippling the economic survival of the country.”
The EFCC had alleged that around April 4, 2015, the convicts had conspired to commit the crime by dealing in petroleum product without the appropriate licence.
They were arrested by officers of the Nigerian Navy and handed over to the commission on June 16, 2015.
According to the EFCC, the Department of Petroleum Resources took samples of the cargo from the vessel and the result showed the product to be Automotive Gas Oil (diesel).
The commission added that the vessel was owned by D Dove Oil and Maritime Services Limited, a company with its registered address at Plot 2 Lateef Jakande Road, Agidingbi, Lagos, and that the directors had since surreptitiously relocated to an unknown destination.