Commercial Law

Court fixes March 9 for hearing contempt application against First Bank, Citibank

A Federal High Court, Lagos on Tuesday fix March 9, for hearing of contempt application against First Bank Plc, CitiBank and their Managing Directors, in a suit filed by an indigenous oil firm, Aiteo Eastern E & P Company Limited against Shell  Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria Limited and four others.

Other respondents in the suit marked FHC/L/CS/52/21 are: Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Shell Western Supply and Trading Ltd, Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Ltd and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited.

The court also fixed the date for hearing of Shell’s application seeking stay of proceedings against it. 

The court will also hear the application seeking to discharge an ex parte order placed on Shell’s accounts and it’s property.

The trial judge, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo fixed the date after hearing arguments from Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Limited’s counsel, the duo of Kemi Pinheiro (SAN) and Emeka Ozoani (SAN) and Mr. Adewale Atake (SAN) for SPDC, Olawale Akoni (SAN) for the banks and Chukwuka Ikwuazom (SAN), for four Shell subsidiaries.

The Ex-parte order granted by Justice Oguntoyinbo on January 25, had directed the banks in Nigeria 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 of the court 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.

The order followed an application by AITEO Eastern E & P, in its bid to recover the cash value of its “more than 16 million barrels of crude oil” allegedly diverted by Shell.

SPDC and other respondents had subsequently filed an application seeking to discharge the order while Aiteo initiated committal proceedings against two banks and their officials for allegedly “interfering, obstructing and/or frustrating compliance with the interim Mareva orders.

Upon resumption of proceedings on Tuesday, the court considered three applications relating to its jurisdiction, motion to discharge its ex-parte order and the committal proceedings.

Arguing the application for committal, Pinheiro reasoned that it was “necessary that the named persons in committal proceedings (the bank officials) be present in court” because the proceedings “attached to their person”.

He said alleged contemnors had been served “and there’s proof of service,” adding that the quasi-criminal nature of committal proceedings made their appearance a necessity. He noted that they had not filed a response.

But Akoni, Atake and Ikwuazom opposed him. Akoni acknowledged that the banks were served on February 24 and 25, and were thus within time to file a response. He indicated that they intended to challenge the competence and validity of AITEO’s application.

He prayed the court to make an order vacating the ex-parte order because according to him, it lapsed 14 days after it was made.

Atake aligned himself with Akoni’s argument on vacating the ex-parte order.

Ikwuazom made a similar submission and drew the court’s attention to a pending application before the court challenging its jurisdiction to hear the matter. He prayed the judge to declare that the ex-parte order was spent.

But Pinheiro noted among others that the court made the order to last pending the hearing of the motion and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed before it by AITEO.

He described the defendants’ arguments as “Premature, unfair and time-wasting.”

Responding, the judge held: “The avalanche of submissions cannot be wished away. The court owes all parties the duty of careful consideration of all authorities cited.”

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