Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Tuesday, freed an oil magnate and chairman of Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Nigeria Ltd, Mr Jide Omokore of alleged fraud and money laundering allegations.
Justice Dimgba freed Omokore and two of his firms, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Ltd and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Ltd, on the grounds that the prosecution, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), failed to prove the ingredients of the charge and consequently discharged them from all the charge.
The pronouncement came almost seven years after the anti-graft agency arraigned the defendants in 2016 for allegedly diverting over $1.6 billion belonging to the federal government under the guise of oil swap.
It was the case of the EFCC that the defendants under false pretense obtained crude oil from the government when they never had the required funds or expertise to execute the said agreement between them and the federal government.
But delivering judgment in the suit, Justice Dimgba described the issues between the government and the defendants, which gave rise to the suit as “a relationship which has gone bad”.
The court for clarity divided the 15 counts charge into four aspects – obtain by false pretense; conspiracy to obtain by false pretense, money laundering and taking possession of proceeds of money laundering.
Justice Dimgba held further that after a careful analysis of both oral and documentary evidence before him, there was no evidence that the 1st to 3rd defendants obtained by false pretense the said oil swap deal from the federal government.
According to the judge, the testimony of one of the witnesses, a former Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu revealed that the agreement between the 1st to 3rd defendants was legally filed and entered into by the parties.
Justice Dimgba, while stating that his findings showed there was a formal procedure followed by the defendants in the lifting and subsequent sale of crude oil to third party, pointed out that the agreements were not procured by fraud or any other unlawful means.
On the issue of competence and capacity, the judge noted that the defendants demonstrated that they had the expertise and the wherewithal to procure crude oil from the NNPC, process same and deliver the monetary equivalent of 5,652,227 barrels of crude oil.
While stressing that the burden of proof is on the prosecution, Dimgba held that the 1st to 3rd defendants did not strike him as a person with fraudulent intent because claim of the 1st defendant that he committed all his resources to executing the agreements were not challenged by the prosecution.
“I find it difficult to see how the 1st to 3rd defendants acted fraudulently,” adding that Yakubu, in his evidence stated that the federal government entered the agreements to “consolidate on the gains achieved from previous agreements”, the Judge said.
Just Dimgba subsequently discharged Omokore on counts 1 to 3 on grounds that the prosecution failed to discharge the burden of proof in relation to the said counts.
On the issue of conspiracy, the court held that there was nothing before it to show that the defendants conspired to carry out the agreements in an unlawful manner because the agreements were lawfully and legally entered into by the parties.
Similarly, the court discharged the defendants on the issue of money laundering on the grounds that the contract was a lawful one and as such monies generated from it cannot be regarded as proceeds of unlawful activities.
Meanwhile, 4th and 5th defendants; Victor Briggs and Abiye Membere, were found guilty of collecting gifts from Omokore contrary to the laws guiding conduct of public servants.
Although, the court had discharged them in the counts 10 and 11 relating to them on the grounds that the money used to purchase the cars gifted them were not from proceed of fraud and money laundering, the court however held that they violated Section 98 of the Criminal Code which forbids public servants from receiving gifts from companies or individuals dealing with their office.
Having found Briggs and Membere guilty of what he described as a lesser offense, Justice Dimgba, subsequently adjourned to Wednesday for allocutus and subsequent sentencing.