Oil marketers fail to stop trial over alleged N1.5b subsidy fraud

Oil barrel.

Oil barrel.

Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja yesterday dismissed an application filed by three oil marketers–Mahmud Tukur, Alex Ochonogor and Abdullahi Alao– to‎ quash N1.5 billion fuel subsidy fraud charge preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The marketers and their firms, Eterna Plc and Axe Energy Limited, had filed the application to quash the nine-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretences, forgery and uttering brought against them by the anti-graft commission.
EFCC alleged that they obtained the money from the Petroleum Support Fund for a purported importation of 80.3 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).

Their counsel, Messrs Olaniran Obele, Ebun Adegoruwa and Aderemi Oguntoye, however, argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the charge, maintaining that the proof of evidence did not support the offences allegedly committed by the defendants. They submitted that the criminal charge against their clients was an abuse of court process and should be struck out.

They further argued that the EFCC failed to obtain a valid fiat from the Attorney-General of Lagos State to empower them to prosecute the defendants before the State High Court.

According to the counsel, the issues in dispute relate to fuel importation and revenue of the Federal Government, hence the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the charge.

But the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) prayed the court to dismiss the application because the issues raised had already being decided by the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division.

He stated that the appellate court in a ruling delivered on April 30, 2015 in Walter Wagbatsoma Vs FGN, conferred jurisdiction of fuel subsidy cases on the state high courts.

Jacobs further argued that the EFCC could initiate criminal proceedings against anybody without obtaining fiat from the attorney-general of the state.

The judge therefore, held that he was bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal, adding that there were similarities between both cases.

Justice Lawal-Akapo also held that the EFCC did not need any fiat to initiate the prosecution and that the charge was not an abuse of court process.

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