Saturday, July 31, 2021

Supreme Court adjourns hearing on £2.5bn awarded against Nigeria till October 7

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The Supreme Court has fixed October 7, 2021, for the hearing in a case involving the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Union Bank of Nigeria, UBN, and Petro Union Oil and Gas Company Limited, over an alleged £2.556 billion attempted fraud.

The panel, led by Musa Dattijo Muhammad, a judge, ruled on Monday that the Petro Union case in which the appellants are asking the supreme court to set aside a £2.556 billion judgment entered by the federal high court in 2014 against the CBN, Union Bank, the minister of finance and the attorney-general of the federation, be postponed till October 7.

“It has been the policy of this court to give priority to any matter that will affect the economy of this country,” TheCable quoted Mr Muhammad as saying.

The lingering controversy over how the proceeds were to be shared and who had the right to represent Petro Union came up again when the case was called, with two lawyers — Joe Kyari Gadzama, and Onyechi Egwuonwu –announcing separate appearances for Petro Union.

After the court tried in vain to get the two warring lawyers to amicably resolve their disagreement, the court inquired from three persons allegedly representing Petro Union who their lawyers are and they each confirmed in open court that their lead lawyer is now Gadzama and that they had asked Egwuonwu to work together with him to no avail.

Following this confirmation, the court informed Egwuonwu that he could no longer be heard in the proceedings.

This paved the way for Adegboyega Awomolo, Union’s Bank lawyer, to introduce his pending application.

Damian Dodo and Ghazali — lawyers for CBN, minister of finance and the AGF, did not oppose the motion.

Gadzama, Petro Union’s lawyer, told the court that he had filed a preliminary objection to the application on the ground that the same application for leave to appeal against the same court of appeal decision was earlier heard on the merits and dismissed by the Supreme Court on December 16, 2019.

In view of the contentious nature of the application, the court adjourned hearing in the case to October 7, shortly after the court resumes from vacation.

According to the EFCC, the case is an attempt to defraud Nigeria and the Union Bank of Nigeria (UBN), similar to the recent $10 billion Process & Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) case.

The Petro Union saga started in 1994 when its directors included Prince Isaac Okpala (now dead), and his wife issued a cheque, dated December 29, 1994, for £2,556,000,000 to establish three refineries in Nigeria.

The cheque, issued in favour of their consultants, Gladstone Kukoyi and Associates was drawn on the Barclays Bank account of Gazeaft Ltd.

But inquiries made by Union Bank at Barclays Bank showed that the account against which the cheque was drawn was closed on 21st September 1989, five years before the cheque was presented in Lagos for clearing.

In 2005, Petro Union petitioned the EFCC against Union Bank and CBN for not honouring the instrument. The anti-graft agency asked Union Bank to return the cheque, after which it was handed back to Petro Union.

By 2012, the company filed a suit at the federal high court, Abuja, asking to be paid £2.556 billion by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Union Bank, the minister of finance and the attorney-general of the federation.

It premised its arguments on an allegation that CBN received the sum of £2,159,221,318.54 while Union bank retained £396,778,681.46 as commission.

These allegations have been countered by both parties.

Petro Union won the case at the lower court, and the appeal court also reaffirmed the high court’s decision.

But CBN and Union bank had since filed an appeal before the apex court.

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