By Michael Ojo
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday re-arraigned four Directors of an oil firm, Petro Union Oil and Gas Limited, before Justice Mohammed Liman of a Federal High Court in Lagos on a 13-count charge of alleged £2.6 billion fraud.
The four Directors, Abayomi Kukoyi (Trading under the name and style of Gladstone Kukoyi & Associates), Prince Kingsley Okpala, Prince Chidi Okpalaeze and Prince Emmanuel Okpalaeze, were earlier on February 13, 2020, arraigned by the anti-graft agency on a 7-count charge bordering on the alleged offence.
The defendants’ trial subsequently resumed after they all pleaded not guilty to the amended charge. Two witnesses were called by the EFCC on Wednesday to prove its case against the defendants.
Testifying in the matter, a former Minister of Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman, narrated how one, Isaac Okpala, wrote her ministry seeking for a mandate for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to pay £2.6 billion to the firm.
According to her, such a request was strange to the Ministry of Finance because the extant law which would have made issuing such a mandate to the CBN mandatory has been repealed.
She added there was even no need for the Ministry of Finance to issue any mandate to the CBN because the money in question is not a public fund.
She said: “In February 2007, a letter came to the office of the Minister of Finance dated 5th February, 2007, by Isaac Okpala. In the letter, he asked for mandate to be issued to the CBN to pay £2.6 billion to the firm.
“A letter dated 5th March, 2007, was sent to the CBN in response to Okpala’s letter wherein the Ministry of Finance stated its position on the matter. In it, it was stated that the extant law requesting such mandate has been repealed. Besides, there was no need for the Ministry of Finance to issue any mandate to the CBN because it is not public fund”.
The second witness, Ojetunde Oluwaseyi, a principal state counsel at the Federal Ministry of Finance, told the court that there was a correspondence from the CBN that it had no £2.6 billion in its coffers contrary to the impression created by the defendants that the money is with the apex bank.
He said: “Sometimes in March 2020, I was called by my Director and he gave me a letter from EFCC requesting that an officer should come for an interview in respect of an on-going investigation. I studied the file he gave me and I later took it to EFCC Zonal office in Lagos.
“Going through the file, I noticed that Petrounion Oil and Gas kept on writing the Ministry of Finance despite the fact that the ministry had communicated to the CBN that there was no need for any mandate”.
Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to February 3, 2021.
One of the counts against the defendants read as thus:
“That you Petro Union Oil and Gas Limited, Prince Isaac Okpala (now deceased), Abayomi Kukoyi, Prince Kingsley Okpala, Prince Chidi Okpalaeze, Prince Emmanuel Okpalaeze and Princess Gladys Okpalaeze (now at large) on or about 29th December, 1994 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court fraudulently procured a Barclays Bank cheque dated 29th December, 1994 in the sum of £2,556,000,000.00 made payable to Gladstone Kukoyi and Associates, purporting the said cheque to be meant for foreign investment in the construction of 3 refineries and petrochemical complex in Nigeria, when you knew that the said cheque to be false and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(2) (a) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 and punishable under same Section”.