Many highly placed Nigerians who own some of the companies indicted for fuel subsidy offences are likely to be arraigned in court this week
The stage is set for what is expected to be the trial of some of the biggest names in the Nigerian corporate world. They are those whose companies were indicted in the report of the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on fuel subsidy payment scandal. Mohammed Adoke, attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, assured the nation that the trial would start this week.
Wilson Uwujaren, spokesman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, also confirmed to Newswatch last week that investigations have almost been concluded by the anti-fraud agency and that those found culpable would be arraigned to answer charges against them. Uwujaren also confirmed that the EFCC would specifically arraign individuals who are found to be behind the companies indicted in the subsidy scheme.
Those to be prosecuted are expected to be drawn from the list of directors of various companies indicted in the report of the ad hoc committee set up, January 8, 2012, by the House of Representatives “to verify and determine the actual subsidy requirements and monitor the implementation of the subsidy-regime in Nigeria,” A number of highly placed Nigerians serving in various oil subsidy- based agencies of government were also indicted by the committee chaired by Farouk Lawan, House member from Kano, in the report submitted April 18, 2012.
Altogether, 71 companies are on the indictment list. They jointly collected N230.184 billion on PMS volume of 3,262,960,225 litres but which was not supplied. One of the indicted companies is Sea Petroleum and Gas, SPG, which has Stella Ada Oduah, minister of aviation, as a director.
Newswatch investigation at the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, last week, revealed that the aviation minister is a director of SPG and owns 1,999,000,000 out of the two billion shares of the company. The remaining shares were shared between three other directors identified as Elizabeth Stewart, Josephine Oduah and Erotomi Buwa.
The company which was registered at the CAC on May 3, 1998, “to carry on the business of licenced bunkerers of petroleum and other mineral oil in all its branches.” The registration number is 221250.
The Lawan committee gave a number of reasons why it indicted SPG and 70 others in the transactions they carried out. The committee explained that some claims made by the group of 71 “could not be verified as the depots into which they purportedly discharged the products could not confirm receipt.”
The committee said that they further discovered that in some instances, “there were wide gap between the dates the importer claimed to have discharged its products and the date a receipt was confirmed from the depot.” The Lawan committee said some claims to volumes discharged, made by some of the marketers, differed significantly from the volume received at depots.
The committee said there were instances where some marketers claimed to have discharged unspecified volumes of products at two to four different depots from one consignment.
In some other cases, some marketers refused and/or ignored to disclose the date on which they discharged their products or the tank-farms they discharged into while some also refused to disclose the names of the vessels that discharged the petroleum products purportedly imported by them.
Based on their findings, the committee said the various acts committed by the companies amounted to infractions which are “not sustainable and, therefore, not good enough to attract any subsidy,” While calling for various refunds from the 71 companies, the committee said “these defective transactions should be further investigated by the Relevant Anti- Corruption Agencies to ensure that all those who collected unmerited subsidy were made to refund the amounts collected.” The amount recommended for refund by SPG is N1, 019,571,609.00.
Abdulsalami Abubakar, former military head of state who holds a controlling share in a company called Maizube Petroleum Limited, is in the same boat with Oduah. Abubakar holds 600,000 shares in the company incorporated in 2003 with a one million share capital. Maizube belongs to the group of 71 companies also indicted by the fuel subsidy report. The company was asked to refund N5, 509,407,903.00. Other directors of the company are Abubakar Isah and Abubakar Aminu, both holding 200,000 shares, respectively.
Integrated Oil and Gas Ltd, largely owned by Emmanuel Iheanacho, former minister of interior, also belongs to the group that are to refund huge sums of money, on account of allegedly playing abnormal roles during the subsidy regime. The company was asked by the committee to refund N13, 252,055,429.00.
Whatever punishment government may be planning for Iheanacho’s company may wait for now. This is because an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Gladys Olotu granted an injunction on July 4, against any form of arrest, detention, prosecution and recovery of the money the company is alleged to owe. The injunction was yet to be vacated, at press time last week.
Christopher Kolade, a prominent technocrat and former managing director of Cadbury Nigeria PLC and M.I. Wushishi, a retired lieutenant general, are also allegedly linked to companies indicted. Newswatch search at the CAC indicated that Kolade is a director of Acorn Petroleum PLC, one of the companies implicated in the subsidy report. His shareholding capacity was not, however, indicated in the company’s document at CAC.
Acorn which was registered “to prospect, explore, open and work claims or mines, drill and sink shafts or wells and raise, pump, dig and quarry for petroleum and other allied substances” has eight other directors. They are Onazi Ochapa, former vice chancellor of the University of Jos; Adefope Adebola, Lawson Kolapo, Adeyinka Adedoyin, Miner James, Oladele Odimayo, Canon S. Miner and Olatunji Ladoja.
Wushishi was named as a major shareholder in the company. He is listed as holding 7,620,000 out of the 2.5 billion shares of the company. The other share holders are Lawson’s Corporation Limited, Real Property and Investment Limited, Umfat Holding Limited, Zitta Holding Limited and Consolidated Investment Limited. The Lawan committee recommended that Acorn should refund N8, 514.900, 513.00 to the federal government.
Chika Alexander Okafor, a renowned industrialist and chief executive officer of A-Z Petroleum Products Limited, is also among those whose companies were indicted. He holds 44 million out of the 50 million shares of the company registered by the CAC in 1994 to “engage in manufacture, sale, distribution, marketing, importation of lubricant, including oil, brake oil and transmission oil.”
Four other directors suspected to be his children also own 1,500,000 shares each. They are Chika Okafor Favour, Okafor Dikanwa Chika, Chika Okafor Alex and Chika Okafor Obinna.
A-Z Petroleum Products Limited is listed in the group of 71 companies found by the subsidy probe committee of the House of Representatives, to have run foul of the PSF scheme. The committee asked the company to refund N8, 065,557,645.00.
Many other companies owned by a cross section of important personalities in Nigeria were mandated to make refunds to government. These include Aliminnur Resources Limited which was asked to refund N2,543,800,931.00; Anosike Group of Companies Limited directed to refund N1,318,443,535.00; Ascon Oil and Gas Company - N4,451,932,090.00 and Rocky Energy Limited - N1,620,110,167.00.
Energy giants such as Mobil Oil Nigeria PLC and Total Nig PLC were also involved (See box). While Mobil was asked to refund N2,660,968,597.00, Total was asked to cough out N1, 931,075,306.00. Presently, Adetunji A. Oyebanji is the chairman/ managing director of Mobil. The company has two other executive directors in the persons of Alastair J. Macnaughton and Henry Obih.
Apart from the 71 companies for which refunds and additional investigations from anti-corruption agencies were recommended, another group of companies and their directors may appear in court too. This group is made up of 15 which the Lawan committee found to have obtained subsidy without utilising it to import fuel.
These include Business Ventures Nigeria Limited; East Horizon Gas Co. Limited, Emab Energy, Pokat Nigeria Limited, Synopsis Enterprises L, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited. Incidentally, Femi Otedola, who alleged that Lawan collected the controversial $620,000 bribe from him during the fuel subsidy probe is the chairman of Zenon Petroleum Oil and Gas Limited.
The other companies which allegedly obtained forex but did not import fuel are Carnival Energy Oil Limited, Crownlines; Ice Energy Petroleum Trading Ltd, Index Petroleum Africa, Renad Oil and Gas West Africa, Serene Greenfield Limited, Supreme and Mitchelles, Tridax Energy Limited and Zamson Global Limited. The companies were found to have collected $337,842,663.80 forex in 2010 alone but did not import fuel.
The Lawan Committee suspected that the companies “may have exploited the subsidy regime to engage in money laundering activities.” It recommended that the marketers be referred to Relevant Anti- Corruption Agencies for further investigation with a view to establishing what they utilised the Forex obtained for.
During the debate on the list however, the number of companies that were recommended to refund foreign exchange they had allegedly collected from the federal government in the name of subsidy but did not supply any products was reduced from 15 to 13. This is because Lawan, the suspended chairman of the Ad hoc Committee later explained that the committee discovered that Pokat Nigeria Limited and Synopsis Enterprises Limited did not participate in the subsidy programme.
A surprising revelation was made last week when an Abuja-based non-governmental organisation called Youth Alliance Against Fuel Subsidy Removal linked Aigboge Aig-Imoukhuede, the group managing director of Access Bank PLC, with the subsidy scam. The group said in a public statement that they found out that Aig-Imoukhuede owns Ice Energy Petroleum Trading Limited, which allegedly received $2,131,166.32 in hard currency (about N345.3 million) in 2011. The group said they found at CAC that Aig-Imoukhuede is heading the three-man board of Ice Energy Petroleum, with Iroche Chuks, as managing director, and Aikhionbare Sam, as member. Newswatch could not, however, confirm the findings of the organisation.
But the group managing director of Access Bank has denied ownership of Ice Energy Petroleum Trading Limited.
Ice Energy was one of the 45 companies invited to appear before the probe committee, but which failed to either honour the invitation or submit documents concerning its involvement in the monumental fraud that attended the subsidy scheme.
Given their reported finding, the NGO cried out against President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent appointment of Aig-Imuokhuede to head a 15-man committee to verify and reconcile all claims made in the report of the Technical Committee on review of Fuel Subsidy payments earlier set up by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance. Aig-Imuokhuede chaired the committee whose mandate was to verify, ascertain and reconcile discrepancies related to all subsidy arrears payments to petroleum products marketers.
The new 15-man committee is to further verify and reconcile all claims made in the report of the Technical Committee he led. Specifically, the President requested the new committee “to properly identify all cases of overpayments and/or irregular payments; to accurately identify all likely fraudulent cases for criminal investigations, and to review any other pertinent issues that may arise from its work and make appropriate recommendations.”
In their submission against the appointment of Aig-Imuokhuede, the NGO accused President Jonathan of “glossing over the indictment and complicity of Mr. Aig-Imuokhuede’s company in the fuel subsidy scandal,” and pointed out that the action amounted to appointing the Access Bank’s managing director to probe himself over the scam. The group also said that “Jonathan’s decision to appoint the Access Bank’s MD to lead such an important committee underlines the administration’s reluctance to act appropriately on the report of the House committee, which uncovered monumental fraud in the fuel subsidy regime.”
As the nation awaits the prosecution of people involved in the subsidy scam, indications are that some surprises may be seen when the list of companies and individuals to be prosecuted are released. This is because the Lawan committee, made a long list of other companies recommended for additional investigation by anti-corruption agencies in the country.
The new category of companies for fresh investigations includes 11 marketers that did not obtain forex but were found to have supplied and collected subsidy on petroleum products. The implication of their action, according to the committee is that “some persons may hide under the cover of the subsidy regime to launder money illegally.
There is also the category of some companies that failed to appear before the committee and were recommended to refund the money they collected. The House had ruled that in order to give the companies fair hearing, they should be re-invited to appear before the committee again to give their own account of the story. The committee had earlier recommended that the 17 affected companies be made to refund N41, 936,140,005.31. Those who may eventually be found culpable of the offence are expected to be in the list to face trial in court.
It was not clear by press time, what the EFCC may do with officials of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, recommended for punishment by the Lawan committee. The committee recommended among others: *That the chairman of the PPPRA board from 2009 to 2011, who happens to be Ahmadu Ali, former national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, should be investigated and punished for the official recklessness he exhibited in the implementation of the board decision to reverse the qualification for companies’ participation in the subsidy scheme.
*That the management and board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, should be completely overhauled and all those involved in the following infractions be further investigated and prosecuted by the relevant anti-corruption agencies.