Court adjourns Shell $2.7bn ‘oil theft’, case till March 2

February 24, 2021
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Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of a Federal High Court, Lagos has fixed March 2 for ruling on whether to entertain a motion challenging its jurisdiction first or contempt proceedings against three banks for allegedly disobeying an order to block Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd bank accounts.

Justice Oguntoyinbo fixed the date after hearing the argument of counsel on which application should be heard first.

The judge took arguments in favour of hearing a committal application filed by the plaintiff AITEO Eastern E & P Company Ltd through its counsel Kemi Pinheiro SAN, who led Oladapo Olanipekun SAN and Emeka Ozoani SAN.

The judge also heard opposing arguments by Adewale Atake SAN for SPDC and Olawale Akoni SAN for the banks, praying, among others that the jurisdiction issue, among others, should be determined first.

Mr Pinheiro told the judge that AITEO had a motion for interlocutory injunction and committal proceedings applications.

According to him, the alleged contemnors willfully disobeyed the court’s interim orders of January 25, 2021, directing them to block SPDC accounts, for allegedly “interfering, obstructing and/or frustrating compliance with the interim orders.”

The banks and their officials are Citi Bank Ltd, its Company Secretary Sola Fagbure and Chief Financial Officer, Sharaf Mohammed; First Bank of Nigeria Ltd, its Company Secretary Irene Netimah and Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Iyamabo; United Bank For Africa (UBA) Plc, its Company Secretary Bill Andrew Odum and Chief Financial Officer, Ebenezer Kolawole.

Mr Atake SAN said he had two pending applications. One application sought to stay proceedings, the other challenged the court’s jurisdiction and sought to discharge the ex parte Mareva injunction.

He made an oral application that the Mareva order is varied, on the ground that it had imposed “hardship” on Shell and even the Federal Government. He said there was a danger that the oil giant would not be able to pay workers’ salaries, and contractors would not be able to execute contracts.

But the judge declined his oral application, noting that the Federal Government was not a party to the suit.

Mr Olawale Akoni SAN, who represented the banks, told the court that he had two applications.

The first Motion on notice was dated February 1, 2021, while the second application challenging contempt proceedings was dated February 21, 2021.

He prayed the court to hear his motion to discharge the Mareva order first.

But their applications were opposed by Pinheiro.

“My lord, a party who is in disobedience of court order cannot be seeking relief from the same court and a party who has filed a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the court cannot equally be seeking for a favour from the same court,” he said.

Justice Oguntoyinbo said the Mareva order subsists and deferred ruling on which application to be heard first till next Tuesday.

The judge made the said interim Mareva order in contention on January 25 following AITEO’s ex parte application in suit no FHC/L/CS/52/202, seeking to recover the cash value of more than 16 million barrels of crude oil allegedly diverted by the oil giant from AITEO.

She directed 20 banks to “ring-fence any cash, bonds, deposits, all forms of negotiable instruments to the value of $2.7 billion and pay all standing credits to the Shell companies up to the value into an interest yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the court.”

The Chief Registrar is to “hold the funds in trust” pending the hearing of the motion and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed before it by AITEO.

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