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SFU/Access Bank Legal Confrontation: Court To Hear Preliminary Objection September 16

CHIEF DON ETIEBET

HERBERT WIGWE 

By Francis Iwuchukwu, Lagos 

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, a Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja, Nigeria, presided over by Justice Hakeem Oshodi, will on September 16, 2019, entertain the preliminary objection instituted by Paul Usoro (SAN), counsel for  Access Bank Plc, questioning the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case initiated against the bank and some of its officials.

It would be recalled that the Special Fraud Unit, SFU, of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, had initiated a fraud charge to the tune of $6.3million against the Group Managing Director, GMD, of Access Bank Plc., Herbert Wigwe, Cast Oil & Gas Ltd, Seyi Sanni, Adekunle Adebayo, Access Bank Plc, Titi Oshontoki, Chinyere Bishop-Adigwe, Sunny Offiong and Augusta Energy Nigeria Ltd. 

Wigwe and the other defendants were initially to be arraigned on May 2, 2019 on a four-counts charge that had to with conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to obtain money by false pretences, obtaining money by false pretence and stealing. 

But due to the absence of the GMD and the other defendants in court, the proposed arraignment could not go on. 

In the charge, the defendants were alleged to have committed the offence alongside Tunji Amushan who is said to be at large between January and December, 2015.

Wigwe and others were further alleged to have conspired with Augusta Energy of Geneva, Switzerland, to defraud the complainant, Top Oil and Gas Development Ltd to the tune of over $6.3million.

They were equally alleged to have obtained the funds from Top Oil and Gas Development Ltd, when they falsely represented to the Chairman of the company, Chief Don Obot Etiebet and other officers of the company, that Cast Oil and Gas Ltd had a contract with Augusta Energy of Geneva, Switzerland. 

The said contract is allegedly for the supply of 10,000 metric tones of Automated Gas Oil (AGO), by Augusta Energy of Geneva to Cast Oil and Gas, the cost price of the product was $6.3million and Top Oil and Gas Ltd, was the consignee of the products.

The defendants were further accused by the prosecution, of allegedly promising the complainant that Cast Oil and Gas Ltd will sell the said products on its behalf. 

The Prosecution also told Justice Oshodi that the defendants allegedly promised to ensure that Top Oil and Gas Development Ltd recovered the money invested for the purchase, supply and importation of the said products. 

It was further the contention of the SFU, that the defendants  fraudulently induced the complainant to pay for a product which was not actually supplied, nor imported into Nigeria, by Augusta Energy and that the defendants had fraudulently converted the funds to their own use and benefit. 

The alleged offence, according to the prosecution, contravene  Sections 383 (2)(f), 390 (9) and 422 of the Criminal Code 2004 and Section 8 (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act of 2006.

During last Monday's proceedings on the matter, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, had informed Justice Oshodi that its office would be taking over prosecution of the case from the SFU.

Specifically, lawyer from the AGF's office, Pius Akuta, said, "We urge your lordship to grant the office of the AGF to take over this matter."

Responding, the defence lawyer, Obafolahan Ojibara, Felix Agbonrofo and Michael Ngidi suggested that they will be seeking the direction of the court regarding Akuta's request. 

In his decision, Justice Oshodi acknowledged receiving a letter dated July 4 which contained Akuta's request. 

The judge said, "Though there is no AG currently sitting in office, I cannot say you should not take over the prosecution of this case because constitutionally,  you can take over. 

"The office of the AG is hereby permitted to take over this suit.”

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