Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday convicted and subsequently ordered the winding up of Process and Industrial Developments Limited and its Nigerian affiliate, P&ID Nigeria Limited.
Mr Inyang Ekwo made the orders after the two firms, through their representatives, pleaded guilty to the 11 counts of fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and other sundry charges in connection with a year 2010 contract leading to the recent controversial judgment of a British court empowering the P&ID to seize about $9.6bn worth of Nigerian assets.
In his judgment on Thursday, Ekwo also ordered the forfeiture of “the assets and properties” of the two firms to the Nigerian government.
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, in his reaction to the judgment on Thursday, said the court’s order implied that the “liability that is rooted in fraud and corruption cannot stand judicial enforceability.”
Malami said Nigeria would meet with its legal consortium early next week in United Kingdom in preparation for the case listed for September 26.
He said, “The implication of today’s conviction is that Nigeria has a judicial proof of fraud and corruption as a foundation of the relationship that gave rise to a purported liability in the arbitral award.
“A liability that is rooted in fraud and corruption cannot stand judicial enforceability. Nigeria now has a cogent ground for setting aside the liability.
“Nigeria is meeting with its legal consortium early next week in UK in preparation for the case listed for September 26.”
While P&ID Limited incorporated in British Virgin Island was represented in the court by its Commercial Director, Mr Mohammad Kuchazi, (P&ID Nigeria) Limited was represented by Mr Adamu Usman, who is also a lawyer and a director of the firm.
Both men pleaded guilty to all the 11 counts on behalf of the companies.
Kuchazi was represented by his lawyer, Mr Dandison Akurunwua, while Usman represented himself.
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, had on September 17, 2019, filed 11 counts against the two companies accusing them of defrauding Federal Government through the controversial Gas Supply Project Agreement signed between the P&ID and Nigerian government through Ministry of Petroleum Resources on January 11, 2010.
The then Minister of Petroleum Resources, late Rilwan Lukman, was said to have signed the contract for Nigeria with the then Director of Legal Services of the ministry, Mrs Grace Taiga, as government’s witness.
The prosecution alleged that late Michael Quinn, promoter of P&ID, signed for the company while Mohammad Kuchazi (P&ID Limited’s representative in the dock) signed as the witness for the company.
The offence was said to be contrary to the provision of Section 8(a) and punishable under Section 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Offences Act, 2006.
The prosecution also, among other allegations, accused the firm and its Nigerian affiliate of committing felony by dealing in petroleum products without appropriate licence in violation of Section 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act and punishable under Section 1(17) of the same Act.
After the defendants pleaded guilty to the 11 counts, an EFCC investigator, Mr Usman Babangida, was called by the prosecuting counsel, Mr Bala Sanga, to the witness box for review of the facts of the case which was not opposed by the defence.
The judge then went on to pronounce the two firms represented by the two men guilty.
He ruled, “I have reviewed the evidence tendered by the prosecution particularly Exhibits PW1A to PWIC and P325.
“I have taken note of the plea of guilty by the defendants and also supported by PW1A and PW1B.
“It is upon the findings that I find the first defendant and the second defendants guilty as charged.”
The judge, after pronouncing the guilt of the companies, offered an opportunity to the defence to make an allocutus, plea for mercy.
Pleading for mercy on behalf of his client, P&ID’s lawyer Akurunwua urged the judge to consider “the forthrightness and candour” of P&ID in pleading guilty and not wasting the time of the court in the trial.
Usman, representing P&ID Nigeria Limited, both as its personality and lawyer, also made the same case for the company.
But the prosecution led by Sanga asked Ekwo to order the winding up of the company.
The judge said the position of the law, in view of the facts, evidence and guilty plea of the defendants, was that the companies had to be wound up and their assets forfeited to the government.
The judge ruled, “I therefore make the following consequential orders:
“An order is hereby made winding up the first defendant, that is, Process and Industrial Developments, British Virgin Island.
“An order is hereby made that the properties and assets of the first defendant, that is, Process and Industrial Developments, British Virgin Island, be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“An order is hereby made for the second defendant, that is, Process and Industrial Developments, in Nigeria, to be wound up and its properties and assets forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
The failed gas supply project agreement between P&ID and Federal Government of Nigeria, through Ministry of Petroleum Resources, in 2010, had led to an award of the sum $9.6bn in favour of the company and against Nigeria by a London-based arbitration panel.
The decision which held that Nigeria was in breach of the agreement was affirmed by a British court in August 2019.
We’ll continue identify, seize Nigerian assets – P&ID
Meanwhile, P&ID said in a statement on Thursday that it would continue to identify and seize Nigerian assets.
The company said the President Muhammadu Buhari administration had shown that it was not willing to negotiate in good faith in order to find “a reasonable resolution to the debt.”
“As a result, P&ID will continue its efforts to identify and seize Nigerian assets to satisfy the debt as soon as possible,” it added.
P&ID accused Nigerian government of carrying out a targeted campaign of unlawful and illegal detentions aimed at innocent individuals associated with the company.
Andrew Stafford Q.C. of Kobre & Kim, which represents the P&ID, said, “Nigerian government, through Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, is carrying out a targeted campaign of detentions aimed at individuals associated with the P&ID and the US $9.6bn arbitration award the P&ID has won against Nigeria.
“P&ID calls on the government of Nigeria to accept its responsibilities under the law, and to cease the unlawful detentions.”
In another statement, it described its trial and conviction by the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday as “sham and entirely illegitimate”.
The firm also said in a response to The Punch’s e-mail enquiry on Thursday that the two men who pleaded guilty on its behalf to the charges of fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and other sundry offences at the Abuja court were no longer its employees or representatives.
Request for P&ID’s reaction to Thursday’s proceedings was sent to Mr Chris Rogers, an Assistant Director at London-based public relations firm, iNHouse Communications, which has been receiving and responding to public enquiries about P&ID in relation to the $9.6bn judgment given in favour of the company and against Nigeria by a British court in August this year.
The reply which quoted “a spokesperson for the P&ID”, accused Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, of provoking global opposition against it.
It read in part, “Today’s sham trial in Nigeria is entirely illegitimate, and follows a systematic campaign of harassment, intimidation and illegal detention of a number of individuals associated with P&ID or the GSPA contract.
“Nigeria’s Attorney General Abubakar Malami has publicly acknowledged that his aim is to provoke global opposition against P&ID, by undertaking this EFCC ‘investigation’.
“None of the individuals involved are current employees or representatives of P&ID. P&ID itself has received no communication from any Nigerian authority about the investigation or today’s hearing.
“There has been no evidence produced, no defence allowed, no charges laid, no due process followed.”