Subsidy Trial: Oil Marketers Granted Bail

By Ike Abonyi and Akinwale Akintunde

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Wednesday continued its arraignment of directors of oil-marketing and trading (OM&T) firms and the companies suspected to have defrauded the fuel subsidy scheme.

Five suspects implicated in the fuel subsidy scam were arraigned at the Lagos High Court, Ikeja, presided over by Justice Habeeb Abiru.

The five suspects – Walter Wagbatsoma, Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi, Fakuade Babafemi Ebenezer, Ezekiel Olaleye Ejidele and Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited – were arraigned on a nine-count charge of obtaining property by false pretence, altering documents, forgery and conspiracy.

The EFCC had on July 25 taken the suspects to court in order to arraign them but the absence of one of the suspects, Wagbatsoma, stalled the arraignment.

Counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs, told the court Wednesday the matter was for arraignment. Thereafter, the suspects were called to the dock and the charges read to them. They all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Following their plea, counsel to Wagbatsoma and Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited, Babajide Koku (SAN), said he had filed an application before the court, urging it to grant the defendants bail on self-recognition.

He said he hinged his prayer on the fact that Wagbatsoma had promised to produce himself in court and he did so. Koku told the court that his client did not have any record of jumping bail and as such would be available for trial.

Responding, Jacobs said the prayer by the defence counsel did not hold water. He told the court that granting the defendant bail based on self-recognition was not tenable because the defendant fled from the country to evade arrest upon learning about the charges filed against him.

He said all efforts to get him arrested proved abortive and that the suspect also refused to present himself before the EFCC when he was invited for interrogation.

Jacobs reminded the court that the charges were filed against Wagbatsoma on July 20 but that he claimed to have travelled out of the country on June 17 and returned to the country on July 3 only to take off again on July 20 when he got wind of the charges filed against him before the court.

“A letter was received by the EFCC from the defendant’s company, Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited, that he was out of the country for medical check-up and will be available the moment he returned to the country.

“But that letter was dated 18th July, 2012. So he was still very much in the country. These are some accounts of the deceit he employed to confirm that he was evading arrest.

“Up till now, we have not been able to obtain his statement. He left Abuja for France by 9 pm on the 20th July, 2012 having got wind of this,” Jacob said.

He therefore urged the court to refuse the application as he could jump bail and flee the country again.

Counsel to the second defendant, Wale Akanni (SAN), also prayed the court to admit his client to bail, having aligned himself to the prayers of the first defendant’s counsel.

Ebenezer, the third defendant, was represented by A.A Badejo (SAN), who also prayed the court to grant his client bail. He said his client is merely a supervisor who did not have any knowledge of how the subsidy was utilised. He assured the court that his client would be available for trial.
J.J Ogunyemi, who appeared for the fourth defendant, Ejidele, also sued for bail on behalf of his client, promising to make him available for trial.

Jacobs, however, objected to all the pleas, basing his argument on his earlier position that all the accused persons were influential members of the public who might tamper with investigations and the trial.

He urged the court to deny them bail because there were indications that they might jump bail and stall their trial.
EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, said in a statement that Justice Abiru, after listening to all these arguments, granted all the accused persons bail.

The first defendant alongside Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria received bail in the sum of N150 million, and three sureties in like sum, two of whom must have landed property in Lagos and must all be resident in Lagos.

Bail was also granted the second defendant in the sum of N100 million and two sureties in like sum, one of whom must have landed property in Lagos and must all be resident in the state.

Also, the third defendant was granted bail in the sum of N10 million and two sureties in like sum, one of whom must have landed property in Lagos and they must all be resident in Lagos.

The fourth defendant was also admitted to bail in the sum of N10 million and two sureties in like sum, one of whom must have landed property in Lagos and they must all be resident in Lagos.

All the sureties must show evidence of two years tax payment and must be gainfully employed with identifiable means of livelihood. Also, the documents of the property must be deposited with the court registrar and must be verified with the Lagos State Land Registry. One of the EFCC officials, who participated in the investigation of their case, is also required to verify the documents.

Justice Abiru subsequently adjourned the cases till August 24, October 6, 7 and November 8, 2012 for commencement of trial.

The judge ordered that all the accused persons should be remanded in EFCC custody pending the fulfilment of their bail conditions.

In a related development, the same court, presided over by Justice Abiru, granted Abdullahi Alao, son of Ibadan businessman Abdulazeez Arisekola-Alao, and Axenergy Limited bail in the sum of N100 million and two sureties in like sum.

Alao was arraigned by the EFCC last week for his involvement in the fuel subsidy scam.

Justice Abiru, in granting him bail, ruled that the sureties must own landed property in Lagos and must be resident in the state. The sureties must provide evidence of tax payment to the Lagos State Government and verified documents of the property which must be deposited with the court registrar.

Other bail terms included the verification of addresses of the sureties by officials of the EFCC team investigating the case. The defendant was also asked to deposit his international passport with the court registrar.

Alao was remanded in EFCC custody pending the fulfilment of his bail terms.

But while some of the subsidy suspects were granted bail under stringent conditions, Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo at the Ikeja High Court Wednesday refused to grant bail to one of the indicted oil marketers before him, Mr. Oluwaseun Ogunbambo, on the basis of his criminal antecedents as argued by the prosecution.

Following the rejection of his bail application, Ogunbambo, who was last week arraigned alongside Habila Theck and Fargo Energy Limited, was remanded at the Ikoyi Prison pending the commencement of his trial.

The defendants were arraigned on a six-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining by false pretence, forgery and use of false document preferred against them by the EFCC.

The EFCC accused them of obtaining N976,653,110.98 from the Petroleum Support Fund (PSF) of the Federal Government.

They could not secure their bail on Monday as the prosecution counsel had asked the court for more time to respond to the application.

When the matter came up Wednesday, Ogunbambo’s counsel, Babajide Koku, urged the court to grant bail to the defendant on liberal terms, assuring the court that he would not jump bail or interfere with the trial.

But Jacobs opposed the bail application on three grounds, one of which was the allegation by StanbicIBTC Plc that Ogunbambo collected loans to the tune of N230 million and N430 million respectively with forged documents and had since jumped bail.

The second reason, according to Jacobs, had to do with the defendant’s arrest at Dublin Airport with cash, which he refused to declare to the authorities.

He said the Embassy of Ireland had already petitioned the EFCC over the matter and Ogunbambo’s two passports had been seized by the anti-graft agency but that he still has another passport with which he has been travelling.

The third reason he listed was the multiple identities Ogunbambo goes by. According to the prosecution lawyer, “Ogunbambo changes name as he likes.”

“This is a clear case from the past rulings by the court. The facts are unique. We have shown that the evidence against the accused are quite heavy and the charge a serious one.

“He uses different names. His name is just a wearing apparel, which he changes as he likes. If he is in the UK, he is Benson Adekunbo Oladapo Sobowale but in this case he claims to be Oluwaseun Ogunbambo,” Jacobs said.

Although Ogunbambo’s counsel told the court that he had never had a criminal charge preferred against him, the prosecution told the court that the defendant had all along been jumping bail for all the allegations against him, making it difficult to arraign him.

“He jumped bail. We could not find him and a defendant can’t be tried in absentia,” Jacobs told the court.

The prosecution, however, raised no objection to the bail application of the second defendant, Theck, whom he said had lived up to his undertaking with the EFCC.

Justice Onigbanjo in his ruling on the bail application said ordinarily he would not have objected to the bail for the first defendant because it is a constitutional right and the offence is bailable.

However, the judge contended that the issue of dual identities has cast a huge question on the defendant, therefore denying the bail application.

Justice Onigbanjo, however, granted bail to the second defendant, Theck, in the sum of N20 million and two sureties each in the like sum.

One of the sureties must be employed in the federal civil service on Grade Level 14 and verified by the Head of Service.

The second surety must be in the employment of Lagos State and possess property valued at N100 million and must submit original titles of the property at the court after verification by the Land Registry.

Other bail conditions included three years tax clearance; to deposit her international passport with EFCC and for the agency to confirm receipt in writing; and to report every Monday of the month to the commission.

Further hearing was adjourned till September 21.

In another matter before Justice Onigbajo, an aide of President Goodluck Jonathan, Mrs. Mariam Ali, Wednesday stood surety for one of the indicted oil marketers, Mr. Christian Taylor.

Ali, who is the wife of former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Ahmadu Ali, was said to be the Special Adviser to President Jonathan on Inter-governmental Relations.

Taylor and co-defendants, which included Ali’s son, Mamman Nasir, had been granted bail on July 26, in the sum of N20 million and two sureties in like sum. One of the sureties had to be a blood relation with landed property within the jurisdiction of the court.

But Taylor, who claimed to be a Sierra-Leonean, had applied for a variation in the bail conditions handed down by the court for his bail.

When the matter came up Wednesday, Taylor’s counsel, Mr. Kolade Obafemi, urged the court to accept ‘a reputable and responsible Nigerian in place of a blood relation’ as surety, adding that Dr. Mariam Ali, mother of the second defendant, was ready to stand surety for him and also use her landed property situated at Surulere, Lagos as part of the bail bond.

“Mrs. Ali is a reputable public servant and Special Adviser to the President on Inter-governmental Relations,” Obafemi said.

But the prosecution counsel, Jacobs, queried the existence of Mrs. Ali as she had not made any deposition before the court.

The prosecution also opposed the variation of the bail terms on the grounds that Taylor was trying to misrepresent the facts by claiming in his statement that he was a native of Edo State from Okpe Local Government Area and later claimed to be a Sierra-Leonean when asked to bring a surety, while his counsel assured the court that he would not jump bail.

Despite the stiff opposition by Jacobs, Justice Onigbanjo granted Taylor the variation and substituted it with a reputable and responsible Nigerian with landed property, stating that “the essence of bail was to allow the defendant unfettered access to his lawyers”.