Two of the five persons standing trial in the $1.6billion money laundering charge before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Victor Briggs and Abiye Membere, both former top officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, were on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, convicted by the court for “unethically collecting car gifts as public officials,” in contravention of section 98 of the Criminal Code Act.
According to the trial judge, public officials must act at arm’s length with private individuals, especially those that have business relations with their Departments or Agencies.
The court however ordered that the fourth and fifth defendants should be kept in the custody of the EFCC pending their sentencing on Wednesday.
Surprisingly, the court acquitted three other defendants, Olajide Omokore and two companies linked to him, Atlantic Energy Brass Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited, purveyors of the car gifts for which the 4th and 5th defendants were convicted, on the grounds the EFCC failed to prove its case against them.
How the receiver of a gift will be guilty of an offence while the giver is allowed to go home is the key puzzle of this judgment more so as the first defendant, Omokore, is also on the charge for which the 4th and 5th defendants were convicted.
Consequently, ahead of the sentencing of the 4th and 5th defendants on Wednesday, the EFCC will approach the Court of Appeal to set aside the acquittal of Omokore and the two companies linked to him.
Omokore, two of his companies, Atlantic Energy Brass Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited, as well as Victor Briggs, former managing director, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC and Membere Abiye were prosecuted by the EFCC for alleged oil fraud to the tune of $1.6billion.
Specifically, Omokore was alleged to have used the Strategic Alliance Agreement signed between the NPDC and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited to swindle the NPDC and the Nigerian government of monies running into billions of dollars through the lifting of crude oil from some oil wells between March 2013 and May 2014.
The other defendants who were senior management staff of the NNPC were accused of conspiracy in inducing the NPDC to facilitate the lifting of crude by Omokore, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited; and receiving car gifts from Omokore, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited.
One of the charge reads:
“That you, OLAJIDE JONES OMOKORE, ATLANTIC ENERGY BRASS DEVELOPMENT LTD, ATLANTIC ENERGY DRILLING CONCEPT LTD and KOLAWOLE AKANNI ALUKO (now at large) between May 2013 and March 2014 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court obtained by false pretense and with intent to defraud, 7,551,867 barrels of crude oil (Brass blend) valued at the sum of $823,75,189.95 (Eight Hundred and Twenty Three Million, Seventy-Five Thousand, One Hundred and Eighty-Nine US Dollars and Ninety-Five Cents) from Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Federal Government of Nigeria on the false pretence that you had funds (both local and foreign) necessary to support the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited in petroleum operation for the OML 60,61, 62 and 63 and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act Cap. A6, 2010, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and punishable under Section 1(3) of the same Act”.