A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday rejected a copy of a speech delivered by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu, tendered as an exhibit in the ongoing trial of a businessman, Jide Omokore, and others on charges involving alleged $1.6bn crude oil fraud.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, in his ruling, held that the document, which was downloaded from the website of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, did not meet the requirements of Section 84 of the Evidence Act 2011.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Omokore, his two companies, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited, and others on nine counts of criminal diversion of about $1.6bn alleged to be part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government.
The other defendants are a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Victor Briggs; a former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the NNPC, Abiye Membere; and a former Manager, Planning and Commercial of the NNPC, David Mbanefo.
The third prosecution witness, Idris Agiri, who is an accountant with the National Petroleum Investment Management Services, concluded his testimony after the last set of defence lawyers cross-examined him and he was re-examined by the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), on Monday.
Omokore and his companies were accused of defrauding the Federal Government and the NNPC of barrels of crude oil through a Strategic Alliance Agreement by allegedly falsely representing that they had technical competence, professional skills and funds (both local and foreign) necessary to support the NPDC in petroleum operation for the Oil Mining Licences 60, 62, 62 and 63.
Biggs, Mbere and Mbanefo were, on their part accused of procurement fraud “by means of corruption” by allegedly collecting car gifts from Omokore and his companies on account of Strategic Alliance Agreement they had with the NPDC.
While the prosecution witness, Agiri, was being cross-examined by Mbanefo’s lawyer, Mr. Afam Osigwe, an attempt to tender Kachikwu’s speech in which the minister announced government’s decision to exit the Joint Venture cash call arrangements with International Oil Companies was resisted.
Fielding questions from Osigwe, the witness had earlier said he had heard over the news that Kachikwu said in his speech delivered on March 29, 2017 that the Federal Government was owing the IOCs to the tune of $5.1bn as outstanding Joint Venture cash call debt.
Agiri also confirmed that he heard over the news that the Federal Government had negotiated agreements to formally exit the JV cash call arrangements it had with Shell, Chevron, Total, ExxonMobil and Nigeria Agip Oil Company.
He also said he came to know through news reports that what was actually owed the JV was $6.8bn but that the government was able to secure a discount of $1.7bn from the IOCs and would pay the balance of $5.1bn over five years.
But the prosecuting counsel raised an objection when the defence lawyer sought to tender a copy of the speech downloaded from the NNPC’s website and a newspaper publication of Kachikwu’s speech.
In opposing the admissibility of the documents, Jacobs said the document downloaded from the NNPC website, having not been certified, fell short of requirements under sections 102 and 104 of the Evidence Act.
He also added that the defence lawyer, having failed to state the name of the computer used in downloading and printing the document, it had fallen short of the requirements of Section 84 of the Evidence Act.
Although, the defence lawyer, Osigwe, decided to withdraw the newspaper publication, he insisted that the document from the NNPC website had met all the requirements of the law.
Ruling, Justice Dimgba held that the NNPC having revealed the document to the whole world through its website, the document would not require certification under sections 102 and 104 of the Evidence Act.